Harbor Market main topic of discussion at Common Council meeting
At last night’s Common Council meeting, the subject of Kenosha’s Harbor Market predominated the discussion both during the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting and when the item came up on the agenda. The agenda item dealt with a proposed ordinance change sponsored by Alderpersons Theodore Ruffalo and Tod Ohnstad regarding the temporary closing of a city street. It simply clarified in what instances a city street may be closed for a civic event. With the incredibly high turnout at the meeting, one might have thought that the ordinance change dealt specifically with the Harbor Market, but this was not the case. The ordinance change passed with a roll call vote of 16 to 0.
Most people spoke in favor of Harbor Market remaining at its current location. Ray Forgianni, president of Kenosha Common Markets, operators of Harbor Market, gave a brief history of the market. He stated that they were being sued for having the wrong permit and for being “low-hanging fruit.” He gave an estimated cost of electricity to the city of $1.50 per week of operation. Forgianni spoke of a book on Ireland’s culture which discusses “begrudging.” He stated that “the effort to attack the market is far more than Mr. Brittelli. We need to move the community forward, not pull it back.” He talked about purchasing a defibrillator for the market because Brittelli’s health is important to him. “Plus, I found out that there is already one in each of the public museums. This needs to be publicized. Safety is of the utmost importance. We have a first responder on our board. We looked at alternatives as to where to move. East of the museum is windy. Place de Douai can hold fifty vendors. Last year, we had 135. It’s a market of buyers.”
Bill Blondshine stated that “Second Avenue is very important to us vendors. The condo buildings are a great buffer for us with the strong winds. We have a gem, a diamond down there. It attracts people from Chicago, Milwaukee and in between. It’s one of the best things Kenosha has going for it, and it shouldn’t be undermined,” he said.
Michael Remsen, a resident of 55th Street, also stated his support of the market. He spoke to its various criticisms: cost to the city (very minimal), no access to roads (emergency vehicles can enter through parking lots), and some just hate the Harbor Market. He spoke of a family wedding four years ago, and people from all over North America came, and they all loved it. “I walk through the market twice every week, once with my dog, and once with my wife. It’s a wonderful community event.”
Kathleen Schmitz, an eight-year crafter vendor at the Harbor Market, stated that the market makes Kenosha a destination. “It makes Kenosha look so good.” To Brittelli, she said, “Suck it up. It brings 3-5,000 people in on a Saturday. It’s an asset to the city. The market has given stalls to charitable organizations for free. Democracy is to benefit the majority for the common good.” Susan Maddox was a representative from a non-profit who spoke of her support for the Harbor Market, and the fact that she was granted three free weekends for her cause, Relay for Life (American Cancer Society). “Last year, I paid for the entire season. My family members are on the team.”
Robin Shield started her business at the Harbor Market, and now she owns and operates Robin’s Nest Cakery. “It would be a shame to waste.” She stated her support. “Three to four thousand people come down. I’m sorry if you don’t like the market. The majority does. They control their chaos,” and she urged the council to pass the ordinance change. Pedro Muniz spoke on behalf of his father and himself who operate a hot dog stand at the market. “The market has changed our lives. This is our job.”
Mary Boney, a Kenosha student, has been growing produce. “There are six schools in the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) with six more being added next year. I was always taught to leave a place better than I found it.” Another student from the Food for Learning Project spoke about manning the booth at the Harbor Market. “There are multiple solutions to one problem. It’s an awful thing to do. This is the third year I’ll be working at the Harbor Market. I’m now a freshman in college. We’ve always gotten good feedback and support.” Grant Devine, a senior at Harborside Academy, is employed at Trolley Dogs. He talked about the communal herbal garden booth at the Harbor Market.
Curzio Caravati, a founding member of the market, stated that nine or ten years ago, the market started with only a few vendors. In 2007, there were thirty or forty. Now, there are 90 vendors. “Madison is the jewel market in Wisconsin. Place de Douai is not the solution for 150 vendors. We need to stay where we are.” Craig Zooker spoke about the business improvement district (BID) and the development of business in the downtown area. “What the BID couldn’t do, the Harbor Market is doing. Moving to Place de Douai won’t solve the parking or noise problems. The garbage left on 55th Street after the market is more of a mess than Second Avenue. Compared to Madison, it’s an incredible experience. I go almost every weekend. My family buys things, and I walk around after them paying for it all. Two former vendors have thriving businesses here in Kenosha as a result of the market. I understand that this is not a resolution for or against the market, but it does clear the way for the market to continue.”
Tom Bushery and his wife own the Secret Garden Cafe. He claims that twenty percent of his customers come from the Harbor Market. “It is the goose that lays the golden egg, and I hope that whatever happens in the council chambers tonight does not allow that goose to be shot,” he said. “The Memorial Day schedule will be denied until the ordinance is passed. If the ordinance change is deferred, we won’t be able to sign contracts. Food, Folks & Spokes and other events will all be affected by the ordinance. I was a vendor for two summers at the market. I loved it, and I love Kenosha. I got to talk to more visitors from out of town. And, what more visitors bring is investors and people who buy the products here.” His comments brought applause from the crowd.
Cathy Vivinis is a Kenosha resident and professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. In 2009, a study was done of the Harbor Market. “People see it as a part of downtown. People spend $350,000. The location is the issue. There is synergy that happens in the downtown location. It’s a community event. What people get out of going to the market are the experience of community and buying their veggies. The location is important,” she said, as she urged the passage of the ordinance change.
David Haas, owner and operator of Sandy’s Popper, stated that he and his wife are going into their fifth year in business downtown. He began his business in 2006. “There were thirty vendors back then. Then, sixty or seventy. Now there are a hundred plus. We need a permanent location. We are in our seventh year now. This promotes/finances business. I look forward to many years ahead.”
Pauline McTiernan spoke as a representative from St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy. “We have students, supporters from Illinois, Milwaukee, and Southern Illinois. I see the controversy. But, the whole community benefits for the Harbor Market to be in Kenosha. Please don’t destroy/harm it. I hope it doesn’t disappear.” Kelly Dean grew up on a farm in Ohio. She stated that she valued the community and local businesses and supports local farmers. “With the location downtown, you can visit the museums, visit the local businesses. You can do all these aspects on one Saturday afternoon.”
Others called to move the market back to its original area, to the Place de Douai. Joe Brittelli, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, stated that back in 2007, Harbor Market was supposed to be moved to 2nd Avenue for no more than two summers. He stated that a street “shouldn’t be closed unless 50% of the residents ask for it, and it can only be done twice a year. Plus, they’ve been operating for five years without permission. I know I’m the underdog here. My councilman told me it was a frivolous lawsuit. But, Chicago-style politics shouldn’t be in Kenosha.” Brittelli’s lawyer, Ralph Erlinger, also spoke. “The director of Public Works has always had the authority to close public streets. Harbor Market had five years of secret governance. From 2008 to 2010, they operated without a permit. This is not how things should be done on public streets.”
Dolores Hunkeler’s comments were, “Move it, not close it. Closing the street is not sensible for five months every Saturday. How would you like it?” Marilyn Baker echoed her statements. “No one here doesn’t like the market place. Move it to Sixth Avenue. I’m urging you not to vote for the ordinance. Just think of moving it somewhere else.” Another eighty-year-old neighbor stated that she is in favor of the market, but not in her front yard. “It needs to be in a park area. There is a park on 56th Street. If they need more room, they have the grass and then some. They store things on my steps. They do leave a mess. The $1.50 estimate Forgianni quoted is ridiculous. We have lovely parks to put this in.” Jim Kreamers also stated that he likes Harbor Market and also other parks. However, he stated, “Do not perpetuate the mistake by leaving the market where it is.”
Lou Perrini stated that he wished he had so many people present back when they were proposing putting in the median on Sheridan Road. “I know that all the people love the Harbor Market. But, it doesn’t make sense to put it in front of someone’s residence. Brittelli is not against it. It’s wrong to torture the guy. Using his house as a windblocker is out of line. You wouldn’t want it in front of your house. I feel for the guy. It doesn’t belong there. Change the ordinance and abide by what the citizens say. Who moved the electricity over there? The city? Don’t torture a resident of the area. We shouldn’t be using a $200,000 condo as a buffer. We need to work on a compromise.”
Rick Perrini also spoke and stated that he was not against the Harbor Market. It started with twenty, now they’re hoping for 100. “How will they fit it all in? Six thousand people in one block! I want success in downtown Kenosha. But, it needs to be controlled. Now, they’re expanding to the grass in front of the museum. Where does it stop? There needs to be a limit to the number of booths.”
The Common Council alderpersons then had their turn to speak out. Ohnstad urged adoption. Alderperson Ray Misner agrees with the comments made about the BID. “But, the BID gets tied up with politics. It’s frustrating being in these seats. I’m not crying walking out the door. People don’t call you and ask you for a meeting, they just come here and complain. It’s unfortunate to pit leaders against the citizens.” Alderperson Michael Orth stated that this will be the best two-hour ad for Kenosha on TV for the next two weeks. He asked the deputy city attorney what this ordinance change accomplishes. “It simply clarifies,” replied Matt Knight. “It doesn’t grant any new rights or permissions to the department head. It doesn’t take the Common Council rights away. We can’t move if there are no closed streets. The city has the authority to close a street for events. The Department of Public Works head closes the street for events. It’s already in his hands. We have oversight on the city’s operations.”
Alderperson Patrick Juliana said that the Kenosha News reported that “the Kenosha Harbor Market lawsuit prompts ordinance clarifications.” “So,” he asked, “is the car show on hold? Based on the ordinance, are all events illegal?” Knight replied that there were undefined purposes in the ordinance before. “Now, they are defined. It goes beyond the scope of the Harbor Market, Food, Folks & Spokes, and a car show. The authority was always granted before. Now, the ordinance is merely clarifying what it is to include. Now, the events are now more specifically allowed under the new language.”
Juliana then questioned the fire chief about a rescue report he read. “It took three minutes to get to 56th Street and Second Avenue, but why did it take five minutes to get to the patient?” Fire Chief John Thomsen replied that it had to do with the congestion of the pedestrian traffic. “What is one life worth?” Juliana wanted to know. “This is my concern. If we have an incident and someone gets physically impaired for life, we just lost the farm. I’m voting for it, but it doesn’t do anything to address the safety issue of the Harbor Market.”
Alderperson Eric Haugaard then took up where Juliana left off in further questioning Thomsen. “There were 31 calls for service on Second Avenue in the last five years. Only one call was made during the Harbor Market. We have had other calls on the street side, but they were not included in the study, only Second Avenue. One person died, and time was not a factor in that case,” reported Thomsen.
Alderperson and Council president Jesse Downing said that he also attends the Harbor Market with his wife. “Up until last year, I never went. My wife wants to go. It’s a gem. Kenosha Common Markets received $30,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to do a study. If the market gets bigger, where can they move to? We want to be better than Madison. This will make us number one.”
Ruffalo thanked all present who showed their support. He stated that he was proud to be a sponsor. “If this doesn’t pass, it will affect the way we conduct business for a long time. We need to revitalize downtown. I’m proud, and I support the Harbor Market.”
The roll call vote was 16 to 0, with one abstention. Alderperson Lawrence Green abstained from the vote because he participates at the Harbor Market.