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Development worries port businesses

Sean Ryan
sean.ryan@dailyreporter.com

As Port of Milwaukee business owners sweat the possibility of being shoved aside by new parks, housing or shoppers, the mayor’s top adviser is rushing to calm the operators’ fears.

A Wisconsin Department of Transportation study (PDF) on the future of the Hoan Bridge envisioned replacing the bridge with an at-grade roadway and redeveloping the industrial land around the port. The study has worried tenants in the port.

If the land now used for harbor operations is converted and the harbor shrinks, the port will be unable to generate enough money to justify its existence, said Michel Tosini, executive vice president of Federal Marine Terminal Inc., which operates in the port. He joked that planners might as well consider moving the port 20 miles inland.

“It’s a sure thing to kill marine transportation and activity around the Port of Milwaukee,” he said.

But Patrick Curley, chief of staff to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, emphasized that the plan envisioning redevelopment around the port is simply a concept from consultant HNTB Corp.

“That plan in no way, shape or form is the definite roadmap on how to progress on the Hoan, and people need to be aware of that,” Curley said. “It’s HNTB’s idea. It has not been approved by anybody. The public needs to know that it’s a plan developed by a consultant without any approvals.”

Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Patricia Jursik wants to make sure the redevelopment planning stops.

She wrote a board resolution ordering WisDOT to refrain from studying any other aspects of the Hoan until it determines the cost of new decks on the bridge, which is the right of way for Interstate 794.

The HNTB study “went well beyond transportation planning,” she said.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce is organizing a meeting this month with representatives from local governments and businesses to get more information about Hoan planning, said Steve Baas, MMAC director of government affairs. He said the association wants WisDOT to gather more information on options for the Hoan, he said.

“There’s a lot of anecdotes out there,” Baas said, “but there is a dearth of actual, factual information.”

For years, the future of the land around the port has been discussed, and selling the land for redevelopment has been mentioned, Curley said. The city will continue planning for the area, and the HNTB study will be food for thought, he said. “There’s been discussions about the port land and this may be the opportunity that there will be new, fresh ideas coming out of there,” he said. “Clearly there’s land at or near the port that you would think would be attractive land for development.”

But, Curley said, port operations remain a priority.

“For the city and the region, the port is a vital asset for the exporting and importing of product,” he said, “and that has to remain, for our point of view, at the top of the list.”

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