Bay Shipbuilding General Manager Todd Thayse revealed at the Oct. 20 Sturgeon Bay Common Council meeting that the company is interested in buying the land and buildings to be vacated by Palmer Johnson when it ends its operations in Sturgeon Bay at the end of the month.
However, there is a condition: “In looking at the potential combination of the two properties, we quickly realized that the only way to generate synergy and operational efficiencies and to safely operate the two plants is if portions of 1st Avenue and Jefferson Street in combination were vacated and we can operate the site as one fully integrated shipyard. That’s the intent,” Thayse told the council. “As a result, Fincanteri’s interest in the potential purchase of the Palmer Johnson property is conditional on the city’s approval for vacating the streets.”
Thayse also pointed out that since the Italian company Fincanteri bought Bay Ship in late 2008, it has stuck $30 million into the business, and with a work force of 675, it is the largest employer in the city. He also said there is a backlog of work well into 2017.
“The expansion of Bay Ship’s footprint furthers Fincantieri’s commitment to long-term ship building in Sturgeon Bay,” added Thayse.
Fincanteri Marine Group hired Traffic Analysis & Design, Inc., of Cedarburg, Wis., to conduct a traffic impact analysis of the ¼-mile length of proposed vacated street on 1st Avenue and the 250-foot portion of Jefferson Street.
Council member Kelly Catarozoli felt the analysis was deficient in that it only looked at morning and afternoon weekday traffic, and not traffic patterns on the weekend and during festivals.
“How would that have worked during the Bassmaster/Harvest Fest?” she said. “That would have been a mess.”
She suggested the city close the streets to see how it will really affect traffic.
Mayor Thad Birmingham said that’s not how traffic studies are typically conducted.
“Things may come up that we may have to adjust in coming years if we were to go ahead with this,” Birmingham said. “It can be very challenging to answer every possible question when an issue of this significance comes forward.”
Community Development Director Marty Olejniczak explained that street vacation is governed by state statute. The first step is to introduce a resolution for the vacation, which is what the council was addressing at the moment. That is followed by a review period of a minimum of 40 days, and notice to affected property owners, followed by a public hearing, which would probably take place in December.
Councilor Will Gregory said he talked to many business owners who are happy about Bay Ship making this move, but wonder about the consequences of closing the streets. “Business owners would like to be at that public hearing so would like it scheduled at night, if that’s possible,” he said.
The council voted to begin the process by approving the resolution to vacate the streets.