Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

The Horse Barn’s Final Days?

The huge facility on E. National has housed the police horses and downtown carriage horses, but is now heavy with debt and unpaid taxes.

By - Jun 19th, 2015 12:12 pm
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The Horse Barn. Photo by Michael Horne.

The Horse Barn. Photo by Michael Horne.

It appears the days are numbered for the city’s only operating horse barn at 228 E. National Ave. Grant Chromy, the owner of Milwaukee Coach and Carriage, confirmed in a telephone conversation with Urban Milwaukee that the nine horses he had leased to the Milwaukee Police Department have been sold. An April ad in Drafts for Sale offered “George,” an 18-year old gelding for $2,500, listing Chromy and his business as a contact.

This leaves Chromy with about five horses in the paddock, and the business he operates offering carriage rides downtown. But that also appears to be imperiled, since the building and one-acre lot that houses the equine operation has been listed for sale with Cushman & Wakefield / The Boerke Company for $595,000. The “Coach and Carriage Building” is a “Potential Re-Development Site on E National Ave” of a “Stable / Concrete Barn In the Heart of Quickly Redeveloping Neighborhood Walker’s Point,” the listing tells us.

Tellingly, the photographs in the sales brochure show no coaches, carriages or horses. Nor do the exterior photographs show the half acre or more of the property devoted to the paddock and its accompanying manure pile, but the new neighbors in the “Heart of Quickly Redeveloping Neighborhood” could lead you to it blindfolded this time of year. (Our photo gallery includes the bucolic scenes.)

Sale of Horse Barn “Came with a Hitch”

In September, 2003, Chromy and a partner took out a $650,000 loan to buy the building. The “sale came with a hitch,” a Business Journal headline memorably noted in a 2009 story: Chromy had to buy the real estate, the rolling stock and the horses. Sales in the first year were about $130,000, and had reached $300,000 per year by 2008, the article noted.

By that time, a big chunk of the cash was the contract for leasing the horses to the police department. By 2013, the “annual cost of the Milwaukee Police horse patrol [was] $137,000. $12,000 … from federal asset forfeiture funds and the remaining $125,000 (from) City operating funds,” wrote Mark Nicolini, city Budget Director in a response to an Urban Milwaukee inquiry. [See Plenty of Horne, “Our Mounted Patrol,” July 17th, 2013.]

Today, the Police Department has new equine officers, and a new stable arrangement. According to Lt. Mark Stanmeyer of the Milwaukee Police Department, “our horses are currently boarded at a private stable in Caledonia.  The annual budget for the mounted unit remains the same as you reported in 2013: $137,000.”

There are additional costs for the patrol. The 2015 labor budget is $77,000 for one sergeant and $326,769 for five officers (though these officers doubtless serve with or without the horses). This does not include vehicles and transportation costs, which have probably risen, what with the switch to Caledonia stable.

There is a project to return the horses to the city, which I will report as details become available.

The Horse Patrol is generally used for crowd control purposes, for which it is unexcelled, and incidentally serves as a good public relations tool for community policing.

Tax Woes Plague Firm

The loss of the police contract probably is a serious hit to the business, but there are other signs of trouble.

A Tax Warrant filed in January, 2013 by the State of Wisconsin Department of Revenue in the amount of $60,907.02 sales tax remains unpaid, as does another tax warrant filed in March that year for $5,617.36.

More bad news is in store for the business, since the City of Milwaukee filed a lawsuit on June 3rd demanding payment of $14,627.30 in delinquent 2013 property taxes. The 2014 bill likewise remains unpaid in the amount of $17,161.61, for a total city tax indebtedness of $31,788.

The city of Milwaukee has a policy of not doing business with delinquent property taxpayers, which may have influenced the police in the decision to move the operations to Racine County.

What with the unpaid state tax liens and the city taxes, Chromy would have to sell about 36 geldings like George to bring those bills down to zero, and he doesn’t have the stock in hand.

So, it looks like we will have to say goodbye to one of the most interesting operations in the city, as the Harbor View neighborhood begins to take shape, now that Walker’s Point is filling up.

The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee is currently utilizing a $200,000 EPA grant to assess the environmental cleanup of several brownfield properties in the area the city calls the Harbor District.

A Storied History

The Harbor District and surrounding areas lie east of S. 1st St. The area had very few housing units, some of which have been converted into retail purposes, like the upscale Blue Jacket Bar and Restaurant that replaced the old Triangle gay bar. To the east is a parking lot that held another cottage turned leather bar, the Boot Camp, which burned in 2011. Kruz, another tavern, remains to the east at 354 E. National Ave., a holdout from the old days when there was nothing but gay bars and horses down here. The old industrial area is close to the port and is bisected by railroad tracks. On a recent visit to the horse barn, a very long train carrying Baken Crude Oil [1267] rolled along the tracks to the west of the barn. The east of the barn likewise is fronted by railroad tracks. You can get a great view of the place from the Amtrak.

Although the old place owned by Chromy seems custom-built for equestrian use, such is not the case. It was built in 1906 as a warehouse, with a clear span of iron hoisting the great roof above. The building has 28,700 square feet under roof, split equally between the elevated first floor and slightly above ground basement where the horses live. A hydraulic elevator connects the two floors. It served in 1952 as a Standard Oil Co. warehouse. The building also has a built in floor scale [“KRON Type 10 Serial F.S.”], but with a capacity of only 1,000 pounds it is not much use for the weighing of draft horses.

In 1987 the assessor found the place to be “dilapitated. Roof sagging and collapsing, viewed from RR right of way.” At the time it was used by Johnson Controls to “store junk and waste mat. before disposing of them” — sort of like what I do with my spare room at home.

In 1993 it became a horse barn offering the coaches and carriages. However, the “storage of carriages and the boarding of horses” was prohibited in an industrial area, so the operator, Shamrock, had to go to the Board of Zoning Appeals to get the variance that remains to this day.

An Uneasy Alliance

A century ago, Milwaukee had horses by the thousands, many boarded in stables throughout the city. Brewers, dairies, fire stations, wholesale merchants, ragsellers, junk collectors — the list goes on — they had horses, and they kept them near the shop.

So there was a bit of romance to this anachronistic horse barn with its stunning views of the downtown skyline. I had friends among the carriage drivers, and got to hang out there on a few memorable occasions.

Behind the scenes, there were two horse barns in one. One portion of the building was walled off as a little headquarters for the police to store their stuff and to serve as a tack room. The rest of the place was devoted to the carriage drivers, who tended to be more passionate about horses than the police, for many of whom it was just a job. The carriage folks would like to hang out and enjoy the place, but the inherent tension in police work kept the place jumpy, and off the party circuit. I have seen police trailers filled with horse waste that the carriage workers would have to clean up.

What’s it Worth?

Listed at $595,000, the Milwaukee Coach & Carriage building is valued at $208,000 for the 41,682 square foot lot [$5.00 / s.f.] and $299,600 for the 28,170 square foot building for a total assessed valuation of $508,000, up from $494,000 in 2013. As mentioned, taxes are delinquent in the sum of $31,788. The assessor estimates the annual rent for the 14,085 first floor at $2.50 per square foot, or $35,212.50, and for the 14,085 square foot basement at $1.40 per square foot, or $19,719, for a total estimated annual rent of $54,931.50.

The Horse Barn

2 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: The Horse Barn’s Final Days?”

  1. mbradleyc says:

    So then the carriage business is gone? Surely they can find a location in the Valley that would work.

  2. Meghan says:

    Chromy is beset by more than tax woes. He is also being investigated for the illegal way in which he paid most drivers for years and he should be investigated for animal cruelty. A few years ago one of the strongest and best horses there nearly collapsed from overwork. The horses sometimes work 6 to 8 hours a day in the hottest summer months with no access to water while working, no shade on their pen back at the barn and nothing but cheap hay as feed. Chromy claims to care about the animals, but really cares only about money and making as much as possible with minimal expense.

    Chromy’s carriages are run-down and often their lights don’t work. One driver not long ago was seriously injured when the carriage was rear-ended, detaching the horse from the carriage and sending the driver flying through the air. There is an unzoned apartment in the barn, occupied by Chromy’s brother, who must be glad the cops are gone so he can smoke weed anywhere in the barn.

    Losing the MPD contract is the business’s death knell. Someone with horse and business sense could really make money there, but not without a huge expense to rehab the entire facility.

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