Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the date the city's Historic Preservation Commission resolution to support saving the granary was published for the City Council.
STURGEON BAY - The saga about the city's historic waterfront granary continues with new twists and turns since the last time the Sturgeon Bay City Council failed to have a quorum to award a bid to remove the structure.
The council meets at noon Tuesday and awarding a bid is on the agenda, again. There are two bids that include dismantling, salvaging and storage of the granary.
The latest developments
Dec. 18: The Sturgeon Bay Historical Society filed a complaint Dec. 18 with the city's Police and Fire Commission alleging the city's fire chief doesn't have authority to order the historic granary razed. As of Friday, a meeting of the Sturgeon Bay Police and Fire Commission has not been set.
Dec. 26: The author of a 2013 report on the structural integrity of the granary, which is often cited as the reason to raze the structure, sent a letter Dec. 26 to city officials that his report was misinterpreted. In his letter, Mike Till, a structural engineer who lives in Sturgeon Bay, wrote, "allow me here to plead the city fire chief and council to reconsider the take down orders regarding the granary." Till said a tour of the new Titletown District near Lambeau Field in Green Bay inspired his letter when he envisioned saving the building to create a similar "recreational playground" in Sturgeon Bay.
Dec. 28: A new nonprofit, Center for the Arts, has prepared initial plans to incorporate the granary into a new arts center. The plan was delivered to the city Dec. 28.The plans include renovation of the granary at its current location for a center which allows expansion of the Miller Art Museum, creation of larger performing arts facilities for the Third Avenue Playhouse and public event space. The project, which is in the initial planning phase, might include a brewpub.
Going on five months
If your head aches at the mention of "historic granary," you are not alone.
Since the Tuesday council meeting includes another attempt to vote about awarding the bid, here is a brief summation which might preclude your next "granary" headache:
Aug. 1: The fate of the granary came to a head at the Aug. 1 meeting of the council. At that meeting, the council voted 4-3 vote to demolish the structure after Jan. 1, 2018. The council voted to wait until Jan. 1 to allow any groups or organizations interested in renovating the structure to present proposals to the city.
Oct. 17: The ball to remove the structure got rolling Oct. 17 when Fire Chief Tim Dietman issued an order to raze and remove the granary within 30 days. Dietman had received complaints that the building moved during high winds and his inspection revealed the structure is a public safety hazard and "must be razed," Dietman wrote in his raze order sent to the city.
Within days of the order, the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society announced that a local family had pledged to contribute $1.25 million toward the costs to save, restore and renovate the grain elevator. The building was placed on the Wisconsin Registry of Historic Places earlier this year.
Since the announcement of the pledge additional donations to the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society raised the amount to $1.5 million.
Nov. 3: However, the proposal by the historical society hasn't been allowed on the council agenda by Mayor Thad Birmingham. The historical society presentation hasn't been on the agenda because proposals need to go through the city's Waterfront Redevelopment Authority, Birmingham said after one of the failed quorum meetings. This contradicts the legal opinion of the city's attorney, Randy Nesbitt, who advised the council and city officials Nov. 3 that the WRA had no authority over the granary.
Nov. 7: During the Nov. 7 council meeting, the members approved allowing the historical society to proceed with a structural study and take out insurance on the building.
Nov. 21: The council's position reversed after a closed session meeting during the Nov. 21 council meeting. Before the closed session the city's lawyer for the granary, James Kalny, told the group it needed to either join the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society in its effort to object to the raze order or demolish the building. Failing to do either would open the city up to being cited for not tearing down the building.
The motion to join with the historical society failed four to three after the council came out of closed session. This was followed by Alderman David Ward suggesting that the granary be deconstructed and stored for one year at the city's expense while the city or a private organization decide the building's future. Ward's plan included the option for the granary to be reconstructed on the same spot and it passed 4-3.
Dec. 5: Earlier the city's Historic Preservation Commission passed a resolution in October supporting preserving the granary and working with the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society to use private funds, rather than taxpayer money, to restore the structure.
The October minutes of the Historic Preservation Commission were not included in the informational meeting packets for council members until the Dec. 5 meeting. The resolution supporting saving the granary passed by the Historic Preservation Commission in October was in a supplemental agenda packet for the Nov. 7 City Council meeting.
Since the resolution was in the supplemental agenda, it wasn’t discussed in the public portion of the Nov. 7 City Council meeting, said Alderwoman Barb Allmann. She said both documents were important for the public to understand the issues.
Dec. 7: The Wisconsin Historical Society notified the city Dec. 7 that it is requiring the city to negotiate to prevent the demolition or dismantling of the granary.
"We must determine whether the grain elevator must be demolished or dismantled, or if other options exist," wrote Andrew Stern, the state's historic preservation specialist compliance officer. He cited state statute in the letter for his authority to require evaluation of the structure which, if dismantled "would result in adverse effect to the structure."
High water mark
Underpinning all of the many layers involving the granary is the unsolved ordinary high water mark location. The preliminary Department of Natural Resources location for the high water mark puts the granary in the water.
If the preliminary location is approved by the DNR as the final ruling, the granary falls under the state's Public Trust Doctrine. Based on the doctrine, the granary site only could be used for either maritime purposes or for a public purpose.
The DNR held a hearing about the ordinary high water mark in September and, to date, has not issued a final determination.