Additional support for the repair of the tower at Potawatomi State Park has materialized during the past week, with the latest coming from the Sturgeon Bay Common Council Tuesday evening.
With Alder David Hayes absent, that support came through a rare tie vote broken by Mayor David Ward’s “yes” on a resolution that strongly encouraged the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to repair and reopen the 90-year-old Potawatomi Tower.
The Door County Legislative Committee also discussed the tower last week and decided to reconvene in early September to consider a resolution for that support. If that passed, it would go before the Door County Board of Supervisors in September.
The Sturgeon Bay Historical Society Foundation (SBHSF), which has been leading the charge on the tower’s repair, also started an online petition last week that, as of Tuesday, had drawn 279 signatures toward a goal of 1,000.
The DNR intends to demolish the tower that’s in need of repair and has been closed to the public since February 2018. According to the DNR’s perspective, repairing the tower would alter the structure, thus triggering requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that would be prohibitive to meet.
By contrast, an assessment and cost estimate for the tower’s repair done by a timber expert hired by the SBHSF said the repair would not trigger ADA requirements and could be done for $250,000 to like-new condition.
The DNR requested a meeting with SBHSF members and local legislators Rep. Joel Kitchens and Sen. Robert Cowles, who both support the tower’s repair. That video conference meeting took place Wednesday morning among SBHSF representatives, local representatives, after the deadline for this issue of the Peninsula Pulse.
At the council meeting Tuesday evening, in addition to the mayor, Alders Helen Bacon, Seth Wiederanders and Dan Williams supported the repair. Wiederanders didn’t comment, but Williams said all they were being asked to do was provide a resolution of recommendation for repair with no commitments on the city’s part.
“I see no harm in supporting it, and if they can do it, great,” he said, a statement Bacon said she agreed with.
Alders Spencer Gustafson, Gary Nault and Kirsten Reeths voted against the support. Their objections included a request to hear the other side of the story from the DNR (Nault) and a desire to bring increased ADA-accessible opportunities to city residents and visitors, including the tower.
“I know replacement of this tower is very expensive and not an option at this moment, but I want to see that as a goal to get to,” Gustafson said.
During the public-comment session at the beginning of the meeting, four people spoke in favor of repairing the tower: Randy Nesbitt, Laurel Hauser, George Evenson and the SBHSF’s Christie Weber. They said the tower was a huge draw for the park and the park was a huge draw for the city, and that historic preservation could be achieved while still providing opportunities for everyone to experience the view from the top.
“We have the tallest tower [in the state’s park system at 75 feet], the first tower ever built for tourists in our state parks, and a unique design that would be lost if it were taken down,” Weber said.