Lakeside Living at HARBOUR LIGHTS

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Developer and Port Local, Gertjan van den Broek, in front of the future Harbour Lights Development

Developer and Port Local, Gertjan van den Broek, in front of the future Harbour Lights Development

Back in 2004, Gertjan van den Broek was returning home to Milwaukee from a trip to Door County with his wife when they decided, on the spur of the moment, to turn off the freeway and see what Port Washington was like.

“We came over the hill, and it was love at first sight,” van den Broek says.  “We knew we wanted to live here.”

After a year of house hunting, the couple settled into their new home, but van den Broek had a nagging worry: if he had recognized the potential of Port Washington, it wouldn’t be long before developers would; developers who would buy up property, but who wouldn’t necessarily have the best interests of the community in mind.  What if, he wondered, the community could purchase the property, and thereby control the development?

With this idea in mind, van den Broek created Renew Port Holdings, which is a Community Supported Business, or CSB – quite likely the very first of its kind.  The business structure allows people in the community to invest in their community, instead of in Wall Street, so they’ll know exactly where their money is going.  Not only does this create responsible development, but people who own their downtown will support their downtown – and we all know that shops can’t stay open if people don’t shop in them.

When the building housing Harry’s Restaurant became available in 2009, RPH made it’s first purchase.   Then, in 2012, van den Broek was able to save the former M&I Bank Building and the attached south building (which was then purchased by the Port Washington Historical Society and is currently under construction to become a Children’s Museum) from the wrecking ball, and incorporate those buildings into the plan.

The name of the plan became Harbour Lights, and it embodies van den Broek’s vision for Port’s downtown:  a walkable, sustainable, thriving lakeside community.  Harbour Lights will bring both old and new and housing and retail into a well-designed development, overlooking Lake Michigan on the east and Franklin Street on the west.

Great Room East Universal - lo_resThirteen units, with prices starting at $259,900, are planned; however, because they are still “lines on paper,” the first 60% of buyers can influence the design.  Those initial buyers will also have kitchen design and interior design services included in their sale price, making it appealing to get in early.  Each unit features 2 bedrooms and a den, tall ceilings and large windows and one underground parking space with the option to purchase a second.  Several have already sold, and construction is on schedule to start at the end of the year, with move-in scheduled for September of 2015.

A rendering of a Harbour Lights great room on the west side of the building.

A rendering of a Harbour Lights great room on the west side of the building.

On the sustainable end, the building will be Energy Star rated, and van den Broek is exploring incorporating geothermal with Port expert, Mark Doll of Professional Geothermal Systems.  Although solar panels, such as the ones he had installed on the roof of the Java Dock building, would not work for this project, other methods of using solar are being explored, as well.

The retail space will be handpicked, and must compliment residential, said van den Broek, so they are looking at mainly food-related businesses, such as a grocery store, bakery, spice shop or restaurants.  Although he hopes that Harry’s Restaurant will continue operating in the same space, but with lakefront views and dining, that is ultimately the owners’ decision.

“The idea is to create a grocery store over one city block – as it used to be before grocery stores,” says van den Broek.

Walkable cities are in demand, and developments like Harbour Lights are a growing trend, as communities try to combat the damage that has been done by urban sprawl.  A 2013 Texas A&M University Study found that residents who moved to an area with high density and mixed land uses (office, community areas, parks and diverse housing within walkable distances from each other, and with parks that are easily accessible, connected and evenly distributed) improved both their physical health, and their social interactions and cohesion.

“In Port, we have a unique opportunity not to sprawl, but we have to choose it,” stressed van den Broek.  “I want people living downtown, and I believe people want to live downtown; people want to reconnect.”

For more information about Harbour Lights, visit:


Mary Boyle is a lifelong resident of Oz, and currently resides in Port Washington with her husband and her two children, collectively known as "the bubbies."

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