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Quest for Transparency - Hamachek Revisited

A few weeks ago we held our first Kewaunee City Council meeting of 2023. It was a packed house. In one of my previous blogs, I communicated the date and encouraged people to come. Clearly the group interested in the Hamachek property did the same. They joined the many regulars who often come to our meetings. I was very happy to see the heightened public interest. I believe that the council as a whole enjoys doing their public work in full view of the public. Some councils sit in an empty room where they can forget who they work for. The large attendance at our last meeting was a reminder that our decisions matter.

The future of the Hamachek property was the largest issue of the day in my eyes. In November, I wrote a blog on this issue. Without rehashing everything from my November 18th blog (which can be found at WendyKewaunee.com), there was a proposal several years back for the site. At the time, the group proposing to buy and build on the land lacked financing. And so, they were given numerous extensions in hopes of securing adequate funding. Finally, when none could be found, the city opened the land to any and all proposals. Recently, the same group that had originally approached the city several years back, showed renewed interest in the land and felt that they now had the financing to move forward. The city responded by asking the group to resubmit their proposal.

The reason that the City asked for a resubmittal, is that the previous proposal was five years old. Five years ago, Christman was the mayor, Trump was president, interest rates were near zero and nobody had ever heard of a pandemic or war in Ukraine. Things are very different now. Labor costs are higher. Business costs are higher. Investors can get 4% interest pretty easily now. So, the city was interested in seeing a new proposal that accounted for all the realities of today. A proposal from five years ago just isn’t very informative.

The other important issue is that we need to know who is in the group submitting the proposal. At least the major stakeholders in the company must be known to the city and the residents. We are a city and our citizens have a right to know who is benefitting from City resources. Obviously, someone should benefit from a profitable business. If a private person or company puts their money at risk, that person/company should make all the money they can. The city only needs to know who that is—a fair request, I think.

So while I expected an updated proposal somewhat in line with the previous proposal, that is not what we got. Instead, we received an intent to buy the property. The offer of $300,000 to purchase the land came with some expensive and odd requirements for the city that could possibly amount to over a million dollars (or more) of cost to the city. And there was an additional offer to negotiate for more land which includes a park, the city’s water building and the sea wall path, as well as all the land accessing the Lighthouse pier.

Now the city does not have a million dollars lying around. Let’s be clear, the city would need to get millions from a bank loan at current interest rates to make these contingencies happen. But further, if we were to consider moving our water building, selling access to the lighthouse and a waterfront park, we would need good reasons— really good reasons. But we got none.

I do not speak for the council or any of its members other than myself. I am just one vote. And I really want to make good use of the Hamachek property that benefits the city. I believe that every member of the council is interested in improving and growing the city. But those citizens who come to our meetings need to believe their money is being put to good use. If the city goes into debt, citizens need to know why.

Not having an actual plan or proposal, the council punted the issue one month into the future. It is my hope that the group interested in buying the Hamachek property and other land, brings to the city a real land use proposal with current numbers. It should include a list of stakeholders, a project timeline and enumerate benefits to the city, as well as realistic opportunities for the city to help out where it is prudent and practical for the city to do so.

As it stands right now the current proposal could end up with the city being further in debt and nothing but You-Store-It buildings sitting on prime downtown, waterfront real estate. I can’t recommend this to my constituents. I would love to get a proposal that I can recommend. If not the current group, maybe a cruise company will notice that our harbor has successfully catered to cruise-sized ships for a century. I think the Hamachek property would be perfect to facilitate the on-shoring of cruise passengers wanting to see what our neck-of-the-woods has to offer And first on that list is an amazing lighthouse tour.

Thanks for listening,

Wendy

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