Kewaunee gets $1.75 million in grants to buy, renovate blighted properties
KEWAUNEE – The city is laying groundwork for major improvements to its harbor area and downtown after it received $1.75 million from the Community Development Block Grant program to acquire blighted properties and eliminate that blight.
The two grants awarded to the city by the program allow it to buy three designated pieces of property, take down buildings and renovate the space so it can be redeveloped. Requests for bids to perform the work are being prepared and issued.
“It is rare in funding scenarios to capture 100% funding for a project, yet that is what our city staff did," Kewaunee Mayor Jason Jelinek said. "We greatly appreciate their efforts and the Department of Administration and Kewaunee County for their tremendous support.”
The major highlight of the grant work is the plan for Fisherman’s Point, the spit of land on North Main Street poking into the mouth of the Kewaunee River on the north side of the harbor. About three acres on the water's edge were privately owned for about 20 years by an entity that bought the property from the city with promises to develop that never came to pass, Jelinek said.
The city now has reacquired the property, and will not only remove an old steel building on site but raise the ground by 3 feet — to hopefully bring it above potential flood levels. Jelinek noted the property was underwater because of record-high water levels in Lake Michigan in the past year.
"We're just trying to be proactive and make sure what we do will last into the future," Jelinek said.
According to Jelinek, the Fisherman's Point acquisition is in line with recommendations laid out in the Waterfront Plan approved by the Kewaunee Common Council in May 2018, as well as with the more-detailed Harbor Master Plan approved in October 2019. The latter plan suggested the site would be an ideal location for mixed-use, focused on maritime recreation, possibly including dining and lodging.
"It was always suggested to acquire that property and develop it," Jelinek said. "Now we can have a deeper discussion on what to do with it in the future."
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The city also bought a house and parcel formerly owned by William Draeb at 1304 Ellis St., and is working to finalize a deal for a small property behind Town & Country Real Estate on Main Street.
Jelinek thinks the Draeb property, once the building is torn down, could be a location for a multifamily housing unit, which a recent study showed is lacking in the city and county. The other location is more of a long-term strategic acquisition, he said.
Jelinek said that winning these grants — and buying these properties — makes them attractive to developers at no cost to the city and is another step in an ongoing effort to revitalize the city and its downtown and harbor areas, for which he said residents should be optimistic and excited.
"The city has made plans in the last four years, and we're already seeing it happening," Jelinek said. "I think it's encouraging. The city of Kewaunee should be taking a victory lap. This is huge, to set a goal like this and then meet it."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Kewaunee gets $1.75 million in grants to buy, renovate blighted properties