Jeramey Jannene
Plats and Parcels

Downtown Hampton Inn Mysteriously Closes

Signs point to financial issues. Plus: A recap of the week's real estate news.

By - May 28th, 2023 05:30 pm
174-184 W. Wisconsin Ave., Hampton Inn & Suites. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

174-184 W. Wisconsin Ave., Hampton Inn & Suites. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Memorial Day Weekend marks the start of Milwaukee’s peak tourism season, but one hotel won’t be participating.

The 138-room Hampton Inn and Suites, 176 W. Wisconsin Ave., mysteriously closed in late April.

A sign on the door says “this hotel is permanently closed for renovations.” And lest that apparent contradiction confuse readers, there are no permits on file with the city for any renovations.

Prakash Rajamani, the managing principal with Virginia-based hotel owner Crossways Capital, has not responded to a request for comment.

But Clai Green, who leased the event venue on the hotel’s sixth floor and now finds himself with more than 70 weddings in need of new venues, has placed the blame on financial issues involving Crossways.

Given the fact that his business is now effectively gone, Green told Maredithe Meyer he intends to sue for breach of contract.

“I take my business very seriously and the people and the clients because it’s a small city, and for somebody to come in from another city and directly ruin people’s lives is disgusting to me,” Green told Meyer. The venue operator said he was given less than a week notice in April that a closure was forthcoming.

Green reports rebooking nearly all of the weddings into new venues. But one couple, who were to be married the day this article was published, told WISN that the choice wasn’t what “we dreamed of.”

Not only is the hotel going to miss the 2023 summer season, it’s also poised to miss the planned hotel windfall from the 2024 Republican National Convention.

Peggy Williams-Smith, VISIT Milwaukee CEO, said the hotel’s management firm, Kinseth Hospital Companies, declined to commit to providing rooms for the event, but that she wasn’t concerned because the hotel is relatively small.

This isn’t the first time the property has gone through financial issues. It was transferred to a lender in lieu of foreclosure in 2019 with a listed value of $19 million in state real estate transfer records. Crossways purchased it later that year for $10.66 million. The property is currently assessed at $9.99 million.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue‘s delinquent taxpayer database lists the hotel’s legal entity, Wisconsin Ave Partners LLC, as owing $240,440.65 in unpaid hotel and withholding taxes. The department has several open circuit court claims against the company.

Neumann Pools also has an open claim, dating back to July 2022, against the company. There is not an open foreclosure suit.

Two decades ago the property operated as a Howard Johnson Inn & Suites, but was sold in 2005 and remodeled and sold again in 2014 and 2016. The building’s facade has been substantially altered, but the structure dates back to 1917. It’s actually an amalgamation of three structures, the Bartlett Building, the Gross Building and the National Bank Building.

A hotel a block west also has gone through financial issues recently. In August, Peachtree Group, which previously owned the Hampton Inn, purchased the Fairfield Inn & Suites at a sheriff’s sale.

The hotel market has shifted east in the past decade, with new, higher-end properties opening in East Town while the cluster of W. Wisconsin Ave. hotels awaits renovation or redevelopment.

Weekly Recap

Power House Apartments Rise On Hidden River Site

A new riverwalk apartment building is rising just outside of Downtown, but you probably need a boat to get a good look at it.

Peter Moede and his sons are developing the fourth phase of the River Place Lofts complex just west of S. 6th St.

Located along the South Menomonee Canal, the complex is formed by Cream City brick structures previously used by Pfister and Vogel Leather Company as a tannery. The latest and final phase, however, is a new building that attempts to match the scale and cream color of the three existing buildings.

The new six-story building replaces a long-vacant power plant and two smaller Cream City brick buildings that were demolished in 2020. Moede had planned to redevelop the power plant into three floors with 20 apartments, but a roof collapse under a heavy snow load damaged the structure. The foundation, as of 2021, was planned to be reused in the new building.

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East Side Pedestrian Plaza Opens

There’s more room to move on Milwaukee’s East Side.

A long-anticipated pedestrian plaza near the intersection of N. Farwell Avenue and E. North Avenue opened Friday. The one-way section of E. Ivanhoe Place leading from the intersection is now closed to vehicle traffic.

A mix of concrete barriers and planters shield the plaza, which runs from the busy intersection southeast to Black Cat Alley between N. Farwell Avenue and N. Prospect Avenue.

Tables, chairs, picnic tables and greenery fill the former street, which now serves as an extension of the patios for Crossroads Collective food hall and Hooligan’s Super Bar. Visitors to those businesses and others nearby are able to use the space.

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Common Ground, MPS Celebrate New Washington High School Athletic Complex

Students at Washington High School in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood have more to celebrate than the fact that school is out for summer. They have an entirely new outdoor athletic complex.

Milwaukee Public Schools officials, students and staff joined with members of Common Ground of Southeastern Wisconsin and several community organizations Friday morning to cut the ribbon on the new $2.5 million playfield at the corner of W. Center Street and N. Sherman Boulevard.

The new field, made from artificial grass, can be used for both football and soccer. A 400-meter rubberized track will be installed next week, allowing athletes to run in spikes. Two half-court basketball courts are located at the southern end, as is a storage shed.

“This project was a remarkable accomplishment that demanded a lot of dedication and collaboration,” said Alexander Hardy, a retired MPS social worker who has lived in the neighborhood for decades and serves as a deacon at the nearby Community Baptist Church and a board member with Common Ground. “It was enabled by the partnership between Milwaukee Public Schools and Common Ground.”

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Milwaukee Wins $5.5 Million To Clean Up Polluted Sites

Efforts to clean up legacy industrial contamination in Milwaukee’s 30th Street Corridor scored a major boost Thursday.

As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced $5.5 million in grants to the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (RACM).

It’s part of $9.5 million awarded to cities across Wisconsin and $315 million across the United States.

Milwaukee is receiving $2 million to clean up a 13.7-acre parcel at the southeast corner of N. 35th St. and W. Capitol Dr. that is part of the larger Century City business park, $500,000 to create five cleanup plans for the 25 census tracts that former the 30th Street Industrial Corridor and $3 million to expand its Brownfield Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund.

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Master Lock Closing Milwaukee Manufacturing Plant

Security device manufacturer Master Lock is closing its Milwaukee manufacturing plant at N. 32nd St. and W. Center St.

The company notified employees at the plant late Wednesday. United Auto Workers Region 4 said it represents approximately 330 employees at the complex, which spans more than six acres in the city’s 30th Street Corridor.

“We are disgusted, yet again, as another profitable corporation has decided to close the doors of a manufacturing icon in corporate America’s never-ending quest for profit, without any regard for the people amassing their wealth,” said the union in a Facebook post.

Master Lock was founded in Milwaukee in 1921. It was sold in 1970 by the descendants of founder Harry Soref to a predecessor of Fortune Brands Innovations. The publicly-traded holding company, which continues to own the business and several others, is based in Deerfield, IL.

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Massive Bay View Development Plan Has Grown

Major change could soon be coming north end of Bay View.

Bear Development is preparing to move forward on its long-awaited redevelopment of the 10-acre Filer & Stowell complex, 147 E. Becher St. The company announced in a community meeting Tuesday evening that it hopes to start construction in September.

But what it would build has changed dramatically since the development was first proposed in 2020. The number of apartments has nearly doubled, from 300 to 576, and all of the existing buildings are now slated for demolition. Additionally, 144 of the apartments would be set aside for seniors (individuals 55 or older) and a public connection between the two separate sections of the Kinnickinnic River Trail would be established through the middle of the site.

All of which means the plan to build the largest private affordable housing development in Wisconsin history has gotten even bigger.

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See The 2023 Mayor’s Design Awards Winners

In a tradition that spans three mayors, the City of Milwaukee is recognizing the best in design through its 26th annual Mayor’s Design Awards.

A total of 20 projects are being recognized, including everything from a scattered-site public art installation to a world-record-setting new building.

“Milwaukee is witnessing tremendous growth and activity. New buildings, outdoor spaces, attractions, and landscaping are adding to the fabric of our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson in a statement announcing the winners. “These awards celebrate the innovative efforts that make our city a great place to live, work, and have fun. I am excited to recognize these deserving projects that showcase the power of urban design to build stronger communities and move Milwaukee forward.”

An in-person ceremony to recognize the winners will be held Wednesday evening at the UW-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

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Potato-Focused Restaurant Planned For Historic Schlitz Tavern

The owner of the Potato Heads food truck plans to open a brick-and-mortar establishment in a former Schlitz tavern.

James Ferguson is proposing to buy the two-story, city-owned building at 2700-2702 W. Lisbon Ave.

“I am trying to expand into a restaurant,” he told the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee Tuesday morning. The building would serve as a home base for his food truck as well as a small, sit-down restaurant and takeout counter. “The capacity would probably be no more than eight.”

The two-story, 3,834-square-foot structure is currently configured as having a commercial space on its first floor and a three-bedroom apartment upstairs. For most of the past two decades, it housed Dep’s Hall of Fades, a barbershop. Ferguson would use the upstairs for storage and an office while adding a commercial kitchen and dining space to the first floor.

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25-Story Tower Wins Crucial Endorsement

A proposed 25-story apartment building was given a unanimous thumbs-up Tuesday by the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee.

“On balance, I believe this is a good project and will move us in the right direction,” said area Alderman Jonathan Brostoff while acknowledging that some neighboring property owners and residents have objected to the size of the proposal.

New Land Enterprises is proposing to build a 318-unit, high-end apartment building atop a surface parking lot at N. Farwell Ave. and E. Curtis Pl. The lot has long served the now-shuttered Renaissance Place event center at 1451 N. Prospect Ave. and the adjacent Mexican Consulate, 1443 N. Prospect Ave.

The design of the building presented Tuesday is not finalized because there is still a debate of how much parking is appropriate.

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Pabst Theater Group Opening New Venue, Closing Colectivo Back Room

The Pabst Theater Group (PTG) is moving its intimate East Side concert venue.

The organization announced Monday morning it will shutter its The Back Room venue at Colectivo’s Prospect Avenue cafe by year’s end and build out an entirely new venue in a building it will acquire on N. Farwell Ave.

“We’re extremely appreciative of the long and productive relationship we’ve had with Colectivo Coffee, partnering with them in various capacities for over 20 years,” said PTG CEO Gary Witt in a statement. “The Back Room itself happened as a bit of a happy accident, when we and our friends at Colectivo identified the need to bring more smaller bands into the market and offer them a space that nurtured their growth potential. In the nearly eight years since we’ve opened The Back Room, we’ve discovered how much it’s helped grow the Milwaukee club scene and support similar venues like it.”

PTG books acts in The Back Room, which has a max capacity of 300, that couldn’t fill its larger venues or are deliberately playing small shows. Performers include a mix of local artists, emerging artists and smaller touring acts. Its website lists more than 55 shows scheduled through mid-November.

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Bipartisan Bills Target State’s Affordable Housing Gap

To address its growing shortage of affordable housing, Wisconsin needs to build 120,000 additional rental units, Elmer Moore Jr., CEO of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), told an Assembly committee at a public hearing Thursday.

In an effort to encourage the massive increase in construction of affordable and workforce housing that is required to close that gap, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced a package of bills last week that would provide low or zero interest loans for several types of housing projects and take steps toward making it easier for developments to be approved at the local level.

The set of four bills establishes programs meant to increase the state’s housing stock but does not include any appropriations to fund those programs. Rep. Robert Brooks (R-Saukville), the chair of the Assembly Committee on Housing and Real Estate and an author of all of the bills, said at Thursday’s hearing that he was hoping the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee would allocate up to $850 million for the programs in the bill package.

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Private Aviation Facility Opens At Airport

A Milwaukee-based aviation company has opened a new $11 million, 60,000-square-foot facility at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport.

The company, Jet IN, opened in April, and provides services like fuel and hangar space for general aviation purposes, which includes business aviation, pilot training and nearly all other non-commercial aviation.

The new facility was developed at 504 E. Citation Way on the last greenfield parcel at the airport. The development includes a 40,000-square-foot heated aircraft hangar, a 10,000-square-foot maintenance facility and a 10,000-square-foot passenger terminal and three acres of dedicated ramp space. The hangar was built with a 28-foot clearance allowing it to accommodate ultra-long-range business jets like the Gulfstream G650 and the Global 7500.

“The Jet IN facility was constructed using environmentally friendly and sustainable building practices with the goal of minimizing energy consumption and the carbon footprint of the complex,” the company said in a statement. “The aircraft hangars are insulated to high “R” values and are heated with an in-floor hydronic system. This significantly reduced the amount of energy required to heat the hangars, while keeping the heat source near the aircraft and people it is needed for.”

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