Dave Reid

Last Days for the Sydney Hih

Unless a savior comes along before July 6th, it truly will have been the last days for the Sydney Hih.

By - Jun 28th, 2012 10:38 am
Sydney Hih No More

Sydney Hih No More

On Tuesday June 26th, 2012 the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee found in favor of  the Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) appeal of the Historic Preservation Commission’s June 7th, 2012 action to give interim historic designation to the Sydney Hih complex. The overturning of the interim designation of the Sydney Hih complex, likely marks the last days for the Sydney Hih.

At the hearing Ald. Bob Bauman attempted to set parameters for an appeal when he questioned, “what is the standard of review?” Assistant City Attorney Mary Schanning argued that the committee is to balance the interest of the public versus the interest of the property owner, which includes the cost to the property owner for renovation. Ald. Bauman responded, “that’s not what the ordinance says.”  Following up Schanning explained that, “it is up to the committee to make that determination… I don’t think the ordinance really restricts what you can look at.”

On another legal question Schanning explained that the condition of the Sydney Hih complex, “meets the criteria for an emergency raze order,” even as Bauman astutely pointed out “there is no emergency raze order.”

Bauman then asked if Art Dahlberg, Commissioner of the Department of Neighborhood Services, was, “willing to say on the record that all four of these buildings are in eminent danger of collapse?” In a long form answer Dahlberg, explained during the standard raze process the department will “evaluate the cost of repairs to make the building occupiable,” and compare it to the assessed value of the building to determine if a raze order is justified.  Without directly answering Ald. Bauman, Dahlberg also explained the emergency raze process, and indicated the Sydney Hih would meet the criteria, but that the city very seldom uses an emergency raze condition to allow for remediation to take place prior to demolition.

Attorney Brian Randall, representing MEDC, argued that “the preservation ordinance itself prevents the designation of the Nicholas Senn Building,” and attempted to make the case that “the balance significantly weighs in favor” of overturning the designation.

“I want to assure you that I have a sensitivity to historic preservation,” said Rocky Marcoux, Commissioner of the Department of City Development, but added that “the roof is in danger of collapse, on the Senn Building,” and that “they’re not practical to preserve.” Marcoux went on to argue that for new development west of the river in the Park East to occur the city needed to remove the Sydney Hih complex.

Firing back Ald. Bauman made the argument that “by keeping at least the corner building you at least preserve options,” otherwise the city will end up with a parking lot.

Responding to a request for a breakdown in the terms of the cost to mothball or rehab the building, Dahlberg provided cost estimates for the entire complex, and just for the Nicholas Senn Building. Dahlberg reported that the would cost $435,000 to demolish or $1.5 million to mothball, and $6.6 million to rehab the entire complex. And according to Dahlberg just to mothball the Nicholas Senn Building will cost $750,000 and almost $4 million to put it back in productive use.

A few developers and real estate professionals argued for the Sydney Hih’s removal. Gary Grunau, President Grucon Group, made the case that “the site is not a clean site, and Mike Mervis, Vice President of Zilber Ltd., argued that “this is a tough call, but maybe not that tough.”

“Leaving it there presents a negative image,” said James T. Barry III, president of Cassidy Turley Barry commercial real estate brokerage.

The developer of the adjacent The Moderne, Rick Barrett, owner of Barrett Visionary, explained that “I normally side on the side of historical,” but in this case thinks the Sydney Hih should be demolished for redevelopment.

But not all of the developers in Milwaukee thought it was a lost cause.  Speaking in support of saving the Sydney Hih were two local developers, both capable of taking on the project given enough time.

John Raettig, Raettig Redevelopment, who has redeveloped historic buildings on Milwaukee St., the Johnson’s Bank building, and the Cawker Building stated, “I believe all of the buildings I’ve been involved with in my career would have qualified for a raze order by the standards I’m hearing.”  Explaining what he felt the impact of demolition has been and would be in this case he stated, “each time we lose one we lose an opportunity.” Raettig noted, as Ald. Bauman pointed out earlier, didn’t “see any reason to create any more of a parking lot, or gravel pit.”

Juli Kaufmann, president of Fix Development, “I share that point of view [with Raettig]…I believe small can be beautiful.” She added, almost as a critique of the City of Milwaukee’s efforts to demolish the Sydney Hih, “it’s just a matter of what you choose to value.”

A group of citizens also spoke in favor of saving the Sydney Hih, and passionately argued for the value of our history.

Despite the claim that new development would be hindered by leaving the Sydney Hih, Erik Ljung, who was one of the citizens that filed the designation petition and recent Urban Milwaukee photographic contributor, pointed out that the Aloft, and The Moderne “were not hindered” by the presence of the Sydney Hih.

Max Eisenberg, Sydney Eisenberg‘s grandson, spoke to the historic and cultural value of the Sydney Hih adding that it is,  “literally part of the heart and sole of what makes Milwaukee, Milwaukee.”

“People fall in love with the beauty of our city,” said Chad Johnson, and that “once it is gone, it is gone.”

Attempting to make the case for delay to allow time for a plan to save the Sydney Hih to come together, Noah Skowronski, the passionate leader of the group that filed the petition to designate the Sydney Hih, asked the committee, “to give us time to talk to people…to make it a viable project.” Skowronski made his sharpest argument yet when speaking about the process saying, “it’s disrespectful to the public, it’s disrespectful to the Common Council, it’s disrespectful to our history.”

Bauman responded, “you’re right I absolutely feel disrespected…and I’m damn angry about it.”

Ald. Witkowski objected to Bauman’s motion to deny the appeal saying, “if there was some savior” for the building that they would have already come forward. The motion to grant the appeal was approved on a four  to one vote, with Bauman voting in opposition. The full Common Council will pick this up again on July 6th.

Unless a savior comes along before July 6th, it truly will have been the last days for the Sydney Hih.

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5 thoughts on “Last Days for the Sydney Hih”

  1. Tyrell Track Master says:

    Well, let’s just move on. Some battles are not worth fighting.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Tyrell Well the fight might be over (I still have a little bit of hope), but personally I do think it is worth the fight, especially considering it isn’t for some higher use. It is essentially for gravel or a parking lot.

  3. Erik Ljung says:

    Unfortunately the Alderman made their votes based on the condition of the building. That was not what we were voting on. That was not in their jurisdiction. The vote was SUPPOSED to be about the validity of our interim designation as it pertains to the 2 year waiting period between applications and whether we supplied “new information.” Commissioner Marcoux did a great job of obscuring the reason we were there with his presentation of fire damage photos from portions of the building that everyone agrees needs to go.

    Alderman Witowski is grossly disrespectful to members of the public who spent countless hours and sleepless nights in order to stand up for something they felt was important, took time off work, risked their jobs in order to be there and present their testimony. Ald. Witowski was disengaged, and uninterested during the entire presentation, rarely looking up from his laptop. The man will not give you the time of day unless he already agrees with you, or I am sure having some money would get his attention. Do not waste your votes on disrespectful Alderman.

  4. Sydney HIH is just another building to some people but to me it is a part of my family heritage;
    Its the building where my grandfather took me so we could have some fun like when i was a kid i got a chance to enjoy the easter seals haunted house there.

    This was a place where we got great food; a place where i saw great art work and i got a chance to meet the artists who made that artwork there too; a place where when i got older i got to hear some great music. Every great memmory that i have that involves my grandfather also involved Sydney HIH.

    So to me Sydney HIH represents the following things:

    1st Amazing Men, Amazing Times and Amazing Events of Milwaukee’s History,
    2nd.It Represents opportunity for all and cultural diversity under a single roof
    3rd.It Represents Fiscal Reliability and Responsibility
    4th.Milwaukee’s Counter Culture of differing Eras and its Notoriety
    5th. A Direct tie to My Family Heritage
    6th. Architectually Unique Buildings
    (Tied to different periods in time that are pre, durring and post civil war)
    7th.Physically tied to Milwaukee’s Wisconsin’s Foundings

  5. Annie says:

    Attorney Brian Randall, arguing on behalf of MEDC, has also been the attorney for at least one Common Council member that I know of–Randall has been listed as the treasurer for Tony Zielinski’s PAC according to public documents.

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