West Waterfront Housing Agreement Shaping Up

Financial incentives to be included in a development agreement for a residential housing development along Sturgeon Bay’s West Waterfront, were backed Tuesday with conditions by the Common Council.

Richard Robinson of the St. Louis-based First and Main Properties – who also developed the three-unit commercial building with a Starbucks at the southwest corner of state Highway 42/57 and Duluth Avenue – is now planning to build a four-story, 54-unit apartment project along East Maple Street, calling it Sawyer Park Flats.

The land is located in Tax Increment District (TID) #4, and Robinson requested city incentives. The council favored selling the parcel for $1 and providing a total $2,878,848 in 14 yearly payments of $205,632 – 90% of the projected annual property tax on the project, based on a guaranteed minimum assessed value of $13.6 million.  

The council’s action directed city staff to proceed with negotiating a development agreement, and included conditions that by July 13 Robinson provide a letter of financial commitment to build the project and begin the zoning process.

Robinson will be required to begin construction by March 1 of next year, and if construction is not started by then, he would have to reimburse the city for the cost of preparing the development agreement.

Northpointe Development, which in 2020 received city approval for a 53-unit apartment project at that location, with the parcel also offered to the company for $1, later decided not to build.

Cobblestone Hotels in recent months sought to build a four-story, 62-unit hotel at the same site, but that project drew public opposition and the city’s Finance/Purchasing and Building Committee last month favored Robinson’s apartment project over a hotel.

Having an apartment project along the West Waterfront has not faced the same amount of opposition as the proposal to build a hotel. However, three people who spoke Tuesday before the council favored a smaller building than the one Robinson proposed.

Kelly Catarozoli, a former council member and current treasurer of the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society Foundation, said the apartment project as currently planned is “too big” for that location, but she found Robinson to be a “decent, thoughtful developer.” 

“I did find on city council that you can work with developers,” she said.

Catarozoli said she believes that most people in the community wouldn’t mind a smaller housing project along the West Waterfront.

“I’d like to see people living by the waterfront,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea, but I hope you work with [Robinson] and get this to a smaller scale.”

Based on financial projections from the city’s financial consultant, R.W. Baird, the apartment project, as now proposed, would return to the TID an estimated $319,872 above the total incentive amount before the district closes in 2040.

Compared to the financial projections for the Cobblestone Hotel project, which sought $1.32 million in incentives and offered to purchase the site for $90,000, the hotel’s estimated amount returned to the district would have been around $197,000, based on a minimum assessed value of $7.25 million.

Robinson has estimated it will take 14 months to complete the apartment project once construction begins. The council’s motion would not allow him to have short-term rentals for the development once it is built.

A Closer Look at the Apartment Complex

The project plans for the four-story building call for a garage on the first floor with 46 parking spaces below three floors of apartments that include 33 one-bedroom and 21 two-bedroom units.

Robinson said seven of the one-bedroom units and six of the two-bedroom apartments would be available with a den. A two-bedroom unit with a den would provide an average 1,272 square feet, the largest amount of space in those apartments.

To meet the city’s requirement for the project to have 87 parking spaces, the development would also have nine surface parking spaces of its own outside the building, and 32 shared parking spaces in an outdoor lot the city would construct and would offer for shared use.

The parking lot was required under a development agreement the city has with WWP Development for a yet-to-be-built bar/deli project known as the Sturgeon Bay Terrace.

Because the bar/deli was to be completed by June 1 under the agreement, city administrator Josh Van Lieshout said the project is now in “a period of default, so the city will have to work through that with the developer,” Peter Gentry.

“If I recall correctly, he has right-to-cure opportunities in the development agreement,” Van Lieshouse said, adding that he didn’t believe those would be exercised. 

In the event Gentry chooses not to go ahead with the project, Van Lieshout said he expects the city would make that vacant site next to the Maple-Oregon Street Bridge available for redevelopment by others.

“The challenge that everybody seems to face, it’s universal – the high cost of construction and now the higher cost of financing,” Van Lieshout said.

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