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Bayfield struggling for housing solutions: Owner of burned apartment hopes for affordable development
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Neil Schultz stands next to the remains of his two-story apartment building that burned in April, living 15 working-class Bayfield residents homeless. Schultz hopes to sell the property at a bargain price to someone who will invest in low- and moderate-income housing on the site. (Rick Olivo/Staff photo)

For 50 years, Neil Schultz owned the two-story wood framed apartment building at 239 Manypenny Ave. and kept its use the same as it was when he bought it from Bayfield landowner Al Prevost in 1972 — affordable rentals.

Unlike many other owners of rentals, Schultz didn’t convert the building into a bed-and-breakfast, condos or other high-end tourist rentals.

“If people needed a place to live, I was absolutely thrilled to have an accommodation for them,” he said. “I have had wonderful renters, no question about it. Half of my renters didn’t even own a vehicle. They worked in Bayfield — the waitresses, the maids, most of them associated with the tourism industry. They walked to work and back.”

That came to an end April 16 when fire consumed the historic structure once known as the New Brunswick Hotel, commonly known around Bayfield as the Schultz Building. Schultz and his wife Donna were returning to Wisconsin from a trip to Arizona when Schultz received a phone call that his building was in flames.

“I hope everyone makes it out alive, that was the only thing I thought,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about the building.”

Schultz said that when he first saw the burned-out remains of his building, his only emotion was gratitude for the safety and the well-being of his tenants.

That concern continues today. Schultz said he knows that many of his former tenants are having difficulties finding places to move to permanently. Many of them have found temporary housing assistance from the Red Cliff Housing Authority, while others have been put up at local tourism properties. Schultz worries that some will never find housing that enables them to keep their jobs.

As for the future of his property, once the insurance investigation is completed and the debris removed, that remains up in the air.

“I hope someone can put low-income housing there,” he said. “In a couple of days, I’m going to be 77. If I was 20 years younger, I’d be rebuilding, putting in low-income housing for the people that I rented to, but at my age, no. It isn’t important to Donna and I that we get anything out of the property. It is important that we do what we can to help someone else. For someone who will put in affordable housing, they will get one heck of a deal from me.”

Bayfield Mayor Gordon Ringberg said city officials likely would embrace such a plan.

“The one thing we would have to look at is that in that district, we are supposed to have retail space on the bottom floor. That is one of the things we need to look at, is there a way we can make adjustments for that so we can bring in more housing in that area,” he said.


Ringberg said the glaring lack of adequate affordable housing has long concerned city officials, and that need has only been made worse by the loss of one of the city’s single largest residential rental spaces.

“We are really looking at what we can do to get more housing density in the city. It is something I have been trying to work on for the past six years,” he said.

It’s not an easy task. One problem is that the high cost of building makes moderately-priced rental housing economically unfeasible without federal grant money to help developers justify such projects.

But at the same time, federal grant funds and tax credits all seem to go to much larger projects near urban centers and it is almost impossible for small, rural projects to compete.

“The building across the street from Neil that went up recently, the owner at the time was hoping to have the same thing — shops on the bottom floor, then housing that would be affordable for workers on the top floor — but the cost of construction was just so high that there was no way she could cash flow it at a lower rent,” Ringberg said.

Ringberg said that because there is such demand for tourist rentals in Bayfield, and because grants from agencies like the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. don’t work well for small communities like Bayfield, prospects for more affordable housing are grim.

“I don’t have any answers yet. We are still figuring out how to do this. I would love for someone to come in and put up a building so we can replace those units that were lost. I think there is some great motivation for that to happen, but I am not quite sure where we find the tools to make it happen.”


Kellie Pederson, a community housing development educator for the University of Wisconsin Extension, headed up an extensive housing study completed at the beginning of the year and Bayfield is not unique in its problems.

“The state of Wisconsin ranks relatively low among all the states, we have not been keeping up with building affordable housing,” she said. “It is always more difficult to develop affordable housing in rural communities because of the economies of scale. There are very few tools in any municipality’s toolbox with which to develop affordable housing.”

Housing has not been a high priority for small communities in the past, and the result is a dire need for moderately priced housing in areas like Bayfield, Pederson continued. With Bayfield growing as a desirable community to live in, and property values that continue to escalate, incentives to develop affordable housing are scant.

She said the coalition is working to see if subsidies that normally go to much larger projects can somehow be applied to communities like Bayfield that can’t compete for the larger grants and tax credits.

Making matters worse is the fact that the price of home ownership has skyrocketed out of the reach of workers earning median incomes, Pederson said.

She said Schultz’s willingness to sell his property at an attractive price in return for the construction of low- and moderate-income housing is one bright spot in the picture.

“That is certainly part of the puzzle, especially in a municipality that does not have a significant amount of buildable, municipally owned land,” she said. “That is one of the important ingredients.”

For the residents of the Schultz building who were burned out of their homes on April 16, a solution to the affordable housing shortage in Bayfield cannot come soon enough.


Betty Kerr and her son Mark Gokee were among the 15 people who lost their homes when the building burned. Nearly a month later they have not found permanent housing and are living temporarily in housing provided by the Red Cliff tribe.

“I’m not even close to having permanent housing,” Kerr said. “There is nothing in Bayfield at all.”

She said Schultz’s idea to sell the property on Manypenny Avenue was “a grand idea.”

“Right now I have no leads, and if I am able to stay somewhere until I can get permanent housing it will probably come through Red Cliff’s task force,” Kerr said.

The people who rented from Schultz were working-class people who provided the tourist trade in Bayfield with the workers they needed to operate, Schultz said. He said he was proud to give them an affordable place to live.

“It wasn’t the Ritz, but we were thrilled to supply what service we could to those people who needed a roof over their heads,” he said. “I hope we can get someone to do that again. We will cooperate any way we can to see that happen.”

A different big top comes to town: Carden circus visiting Ashland May 19
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Leo Garcia was born to perform in the circus.

The sixth-generation entertainer lives and breathes everything circus related. He started working under the big top when he was 4, and today he’s known as “the human rocket,” who launches himself out of a cannon for the Carden International Circus.

“I travel 100 feet from one side of the arena to the other in a blink of an eye,” he said.

Bay-Area residents will get a chance to see that for themselves May 19 when the circus comes to Ashland’s Civic Center.

Leo Garcia prepares to be shot out of the hydraulic cannon he designed and built himself for the circus. (Contributed photo)

Garcia will perform in the three-ring circus alongside acrobats, aerialists, animals, clowns and fellow daredevils.

And it took him a lot of time, training and more than a few mistakes along the way to make it to Ashland. He didn’t just wake up one day and decide to shoot himself out of a cannon.

“I started doing the trapeze like my family did. Then I went slowly into other acts that I found exciting. I always found the human cannonball exciting,” he said.

The stunt takes mere seconds, but Garcia spends hours preparing for those seconds, meticulously calibrating the 19-foot-long hydraulic cannon, making sure all his calculations are correct.

“There’s a lot of force in that machine. I am very fortunate to not have been injured,” he said. “It’s the equivalent of a fighter jet being launched from a hanger.”

If something does break down, Garcia knows how to fix it — he built the cannon himself.

“When you’re on the road, we can’t always get outside help. So you learn to do everything on your own,” he said.

That includes fellow daredevil Brandon Fernandez who, like Garcia, is a multi-generational circus performer who has been entertaining crowds all his life. His contribution to the show is riding a motorcycle at 60-70 mph inside what’s called the Globe of Death — a giant sphere that encloses Fernandez.

“This is not a video game,” circus spokeswoman Jillian Kaplan said. “They are putting their lives on the line.”

No one knows that better than Fernandez, who’s had several accidents over the years.

But he gets keeps getting back up and getting on with the show.

Bikes have been part of his life for as long as he can remember.

Trapeze artists, daredevils, clowns and other traditional performers will be part of the show. (Contributed photo)

“My father gave me one when I was 7 or 8 years old. Since then, I’ve always been riding. I wanted to ride it in the circus, so I put in an act,” he said.

Being part of the circus is an honor for Fernandez, who is happy to be continuing the family tradition.

“I feel like I’m doing something special,” he said.

Fernandez, Garcia and company have been on tour for three months now as the Carden family celebrates 60 years of bringing the circus to audiences around the country.

No matter how old you get, you are never too old for the circus, Kaplan said.

“I heard someone say that that their kids are too old to go. But they went and had an absolute blast. There’s a lot to be said about live entertainment this day in age, and the circus can provide a great option,” she said.

Families will hold their breath throughout the two-hour performance, watching contortionists bend and twist in extreme ways, acrobats tumble and spin through the air with the greatest ease, and daredevils perform heart-stopping tricks, Kaplan said.

The two-legged performers will be joined by several on four: A herd of Asian elephants that show off enormous grace, intelligence and strength, bears will dance, dogs will soar through the air, and camels and horses will prance and perform, Kaplan said.

In an age when people can get endless hours of entertainment on their phone, Garcia says the circus never disappoints.

“They will be really surprised. I’ve had teenagers tell me this is most awesome thing they have ever seen,” he said.

During a preshow, Ashland residents will get to meet the performers, ride animals and do fun activities.

“If they see me and want to take a picture, that makes me feel good and I know I’m doing something good for them,” Fernandez said.

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Oredock project scaled back again

Original plans called for a path to zig-zag down the oredock, with bridges offering anglers access to fishing holes in the middle. Those bridges now have been eliminated in favor of a single path down the east side of the dock.

Ashland moved one step closer to getting residents out to the end of the former oredock when City Council members approved an again-scaled-back next phase of the project.

The roughly $2.4 million plan approved Tuesday calls for a single walkway that will run down the east side of the structure, which will eventually extend to the end of the dock.

That’s a substantial change from original plans presented in 2018, City Administrator Brant Kucera said. That plan called for a walkway that began on the east side, then connected to a walkway on the west via a bridge, and then back over a second bridge to a walkway on the east in a zig-zag pattern.


The bridges would have allowed anglers to fish the diamond-shaped cutouts in the dock itself and were among the most popular features of the rebuilding plan.

The two bridges were reduced to one in 2021 when initial cost estimates came in, and the second was eliminated this week in the interest of meeting the public’s demand to get to the end — though not without debate.

“If you take out the bridge, you take out part of the vision. The desire to get out to the end as cheaply as possible, I don’t know if it gives the community what they envisioned,” Kucera said Tuesday during a meeting of the Oredock Trust Board held in the morning.

Trust members, who are contributing $1.9 million of the project’s cost with the remainder coming mostly from grants, said they preferred focusing on completing a walkway that would get residents and visitors to the end of the dock.


When asked if more could be constructed at a later date, Ashland Parks and Recreation Director Sara Hudson said that is not financially feasible at this time.

“From an aesthetic standpoint, I like the bridge. It’s a conundrum. I do agree this should go out to the end. It will be pretty cool to see Lake Superior out onto the water,” she said.

Council member Richard Pufall also pushed back against the plan to eliminate the fishing bridge, saying a simple walk to the end won’t attract tourists.

“What are we getting out of getting to the end of the oredock?” he asked. “The best thing to do is to have something for them besides just looking at water. By the time you get to the end of the dock, I think you’ve seen enough water.”

Trust board President John Beirl said people likely will use the west side of the dock whether a walkway is built there or not.

“Our historic pictures show people fishing off the dock or swimming. That’s going to happen even more, whether it’s on the pathway side or the non-pathway side,” he said.

The walk will extend 1,800 feet into the bay.

Once the walkway is constructed, other plans for the area can move forward, Kucera said.

“The vision plan includes gardens, lots of amenities in addition on to just the walk to the end. I hope that doesn’t get forgotten. The walkway to the end wouldn’t look like a completed project,” he said.

Former trust member Don Jaskowiak was among those eager to get the east-side path completed.

“The day the walkway is open to the public will be a very exciting day,” he said.

Currently, only the first half of the ore dock is open to the public. Located on Stuntz Avenue near Water Street, the former Wisconsin Central Ore Dock has been a place of strong community identity since its construction in the early 1900s.

“People identify with the oredock,” Hudson said. “People want this to happen. People see the oredock and know they’re home.”


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