Dave Reid

Marriott Hotel Project Wins Appeal on 3-2 Vote at Zoning Committee

By - Jan 14th, 2011 12:58 pm
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Wisconsin Ave. Facade

Wisconsin Ave. facades

At yesterday’s meeting of the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee  Jackson Street Management LLC won an appeal of the Historic Preservation Commission’s ruling regarding their request to demolish five buildings within the East Side Commercial Historic District to make way for a new Marriott Hotel.  The developers have agreed as part of a compromise put forward by HPC to save and restore the facades along Wisconsin Ave., though they will save none of the facades along Milwaukee St.  As part of yesterday’s approval the committee added an additional condition that no demolition can occur until construction is ready to begin. Alderman Willie Hines explained the importance of this requirement saying “none of us want an empty lot at this location.” A requirement that HPC had requested, to have the new building setback 15 feet from the datum of the McGeoch Building was rejected by the committee.  Douglas Nysse, the architect and a principal at Kahler Slater, explained that within the proposed design if they set the building back it would reduce the number of rooms available, or require a significant additional cost. Despite not accepting the setback requirement, Mark Flaherty, of the development group, spoke about how Alderman Bob Bauman‘s suggestions had in fact “made a better project.”

Many community members spoke in support of the project arguing that “we need jobs.”  There were also community members concerned about the project and in particular the way historic preservation was being distorted.  Anna-Marie Opgenorth, Executive Director of Historic Milwaukee Inc., and past contributor to UrbanMilaukee.com, didn’t directly oppose the project but explained that “it does a disservice to the community to pit preservation versus jobs,” because as she pointed out integrating preservation into a project actually creates more jobs than new construction.

“Do I think the balance has been reached at this time, I do,” said Alderman Michael Murphy as he explained his thought process regarding the appeal, but he too was quick to point out that because of the process “in many ways [it is] a better property for Marriott.” Alderman Bauman explained that the developer’s essentially got everything they wanted, because this approval for the most part allows the “demolition of five buildings,” He explained that the process had in fact been fairly quick and went on to explain that “so long as that ordinance is on the books, it is my opinion that every member of the council is obligated to follow it.”  Alderman Bauman and Tony Zielinski voted against the appeal, which passed on a 3 to 2 vote.

We are pleased to see that despite the differing viewpoints and heated debate, the process led to a better project, and at least the Wisconsin Avenue facades will be saved. We have concerns that this will set a precedent which could encourage more demolition, and that disinvestment may be further rewarded in the future.

Categories: Real Estate

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