Dave Reid

A Possible Solution for the Marriott Proposal?

By - Dec 14th, 2010 03:42 pm
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Last night the Historic Preservation Commission voted to allow Wave Development, LLC to demolish the historic structures located along Milwaukee St. and Wisconsin Ave. to build a new Marriott Hotel.  Under the condition that the project would save and restore the buildings’ facades as part of the new development.

While this is not 100% of what the preservationist groups wanted, and not 100% of what Wave Development LLC. wanted, it will allow the historic character of downtown Milwaukee to be preserved, while allowing new development.  And yes we’re not sure what our good friends at Historic Milwaukee Inc., feel about this solution, but we think this is a solution that can, and should be, supported.

The buildings in question were not recently designated, someone didn’t designate them to obstruct development or to “put a wrench in the process“, and this process was not sprung on the development team.  In fact these buildings have been recognized both locally and nationally since the late 80′s, so some concessions by the developer should have been expected.  The development team will  have to go back to the drawing board, and this will likely add cost to the project, but we do have preservation laws, much like many cities, for a reason.  So, maybe a compromise such as saving the historic fabric along the street is a good compromise.

In addition to saving all or even most of the facades, a couple of other items should be considered before this moves forward.  First, the deal should come with a guarantee that no demolition will occur until financing is locked in place, otherwise the possibility of the project falling through once demolition has begun is still a real possibility.  Secondly, as MBI Properties LLC. is a property owner involved in this project that also owns other buildings within this historic district, some assurance as to the protection of the buildings they own within the district should be put in place.  Because without this insurance in place, the allowing of the almost complete demolition of the building to build the Marriott will act as a precedent, and further encourage the demolition of other buildings within East Side Commercial Historic District.

This compromise will allow Milwaukee to save some history, keep Milwaukee unique, and add jobs.  While at the same time Marriott Corporation will get a unique hotel, not a another Anywhere U.S.A. box.

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4 thoughts on “A Possible Solution for the Marriott Proposal?”

  1. AnnaO says:

    Great post, Dave. I agree with your view that we need to have assurance as protection for other buildings from MBI. I have a couple of follow-up comments which reflect my personal reaction to Monday’s hearing.
    1. I feel the decision made on Monday is a wise decision. I want to emphasize that the HPC did not dictate a final design, they did not dictate how the historic buildings should be incorporated. What they did is set flexible boundaries around what will be granted a COA in the future so that we do not make a mockery of preservation law while at the same time opening a path for more negotiation on what is a contentious issue. The HPC set minimum requirements for the developer with the word “facade”. Those six letters do not provide detailed drawings; they encourage continued talks for the sake of saving time. Also, I do not believe the decision automatically dictates a “facade-ectomy”. Mr. Uihlein made a great point regarding the Milwaukee Street buildings, which I agree with. A higher tower is preferable and possible, which will allow for the keeping of the first two bays of the historic buildings. (I am speaking for myself when saying a higher tower is preferable.)
    2. We need to keep emphasizing the fact that the old vs historic debate is a false choice. Again, the owners and the developers were and are fully aware of the preservation ordinance and how it applies to the project. We should not let ourselves pretend that passing political winds have the strength to damage long studied and applied standards and laws put in place for improving our city. This is not a subjective question. When a layman says these buildings are just old, not historic, it is like me telling a shipwright to rearrange the masts on a schooner because I think it will look better. It would be clear I just don’t understand the laws of sailing. The field of preservation is not a joke. Preservation law is in place for the betterment of the community.
    3. HMI needs to keep emphasizing that while the “onus” is on the developer to create a project that works for this site, not on the community to change laws so they work for the developer, Historic Milwaukee is doing its best to meet the developer at the table, as a community voice, and is open to many possible solutions and end-points. We are by no means following an impossible line. What we are not open to is making very important decisions without enough information to do so. Following the preservation code would ensure there is enough information to move forward with demo, with rehab, with restoration – whatever. We want a project to move forward. We want economic development and job creation, of which we believe using historic and older buildings supports long term stability.
    4. In an article following Monday’s meeting, Tom Daykin wrote: “Other demolition opponents, including representatives from Historic Milwaukee and Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, said the Marriott should be built at another downtown site, or should be built using the existing historic buildings. They said there doesn’t need to be a trade-off between development and preservation.” I want to clarify that HMI did not say the Marriott should be built at another site or should be built using existing buildings at the HPC meeting. Our comments were about Milwaukee’s preservation law. Again, the developer did not address any of the guidelines for demolition given in the preservation ordinance in their application, that is why we asked the HPC to deny a COA for the current application.

  2. AnnaO says:

    One more clarification on comment No.2 then I’ll stop typing. If anyone in the community does not feel the preservation code should apply to the buildings in question, they have the right to challenge that and lobby for its repeal. No?

  3. C.D. says:

    Preserving the facades in the development would be a joke of historic preservation. An exterior facade is putting lipstick on a corpse. The core of the building would still be gone. The commission should atleast be honest about the false preservation and allow the developer to completely tear down the site or completely refuse the demolition. A compromise will only make for a crappy design like Soldier Field as I’m sure many have pointed out already.

  4. Dave Reid says:

    @C.D. There are many examples of saving facades as a component of preservation, and to me in this case it seems like a decent compromise. With the additional requirements that financing be in place prior to any demo.

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