Ferry could boost Bay View economy

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As real estate developers ponder the best uses of land on the north end of the Port of Milwaukee, a lake ferry could ultimately spur development on the south end.
Lake Express LLC, a group led by Milwaukee investor David Lubar of Lubar & Co. Inc., is securing the financing to launch the Lake Express ferry line that would enter at the port’s south end and dock near the base of the Hoan Bridge.
The ferry will carry up to 250 passengers and 46 automobiles per trip between Milwaukee and Muskegon, Mich.
The ferry would operate from May 1 through Dec. 31, making three roundtrips per day. Each trip across Lake Michigan would last about 2 and a half hours.
Kenneth Szalli, director of the Port of Milwaukee, told Small Business Times that an announcement about the progress of the ferry service would be made soon.
"They are working out the details now," Szalli said. "They’ve signed the shipyard contract, and they’re finalizing the long-term financing. The equity is in place."
Lake Express received a $500,000 loan from the Milwaukee Economic Development Corp. last month, and a Milwaukee Common Council committee recently endorsed a lease for a $2 million terminal to be built at the south end of the port in the Bay View neighborhood.
David Lubar was out of the country and unavailable for comment on the ferry project.
"We’re still working with the financing," said Oyvind Solvang, a partner with Lubar & Co.
In its filing with the city, Lake Express estimated its total cost at $22 million and predicted the project would create about 40 full-time jobs. Sources said the ferry could carry as many as 100,000 passengers per year.
The site of the proposed terminal for the ferry is near a US Coast Guard station and a US Naval & Marine Corps Reserve Center at 2401 S. Lincoln Memorial Drive.
Those two buildings eventually could be razed or renovated to make room for commercial businesses that would be compatible with the ferry service, according to sources involved with the ferry project.
The emergence of a commercial district to cater to ferry tourists from Michigan could funnel traffic into Bay View and could be the catalyst for the redevelopment of Kinnickinnic Avenue, Szalli said. (See accompanying Q&A.)
Ald. Suzanne Breier, who represents the Bay View neighborhood, is "thrilled to pieces" about the prospects of the ferry loading and unloading thousands of tourists in her district.
"It would benefit my district, and it would benefit the whole downtown," Breier said.

April 4, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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