Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Historic Stelzer Barn, A Former Hostel, Could See New Life

Greendale entrepreneur proposing major investment in former farm owned by Milwaukee County Parks.

By - Jul 21st, 2023 04:12 pm

Barn at intersection of W. Loomis Rd. and Root River Parkway that formerly served as a youth hostel. Photo by Milwaukee County Parks.

A dilapidated barn and farmhouse on the Root River Parkway could see new life thanks to an agreement being hammered out between Milwaukee County Parks and a local entrepreneur.

The property, near the intersection of W. Loomis Road and S. Root River Parkway in Greendale, has a history as a former youth hostel, but before that, it was the Stelzer farmhouse and dairy barn. The property and buildings were acquired by Milwaukee County Parks roughly a century ago as the department constructed the Root River Parkway.

For the past 10 years, the department reports, the 5,180-square-foot barn and 1,650-square-foot outbuilding have sat vacant. The barn needs significant repairs if it’s ever to be used again. There’s a local entrepreneur in Greendale that is willing to do just that.

Virginia Emmons McNaught, doing business as Two Weathervanes, LLC, is working out a development agreement with the parks department that would allow her to lease the buildings from the county and make approximately $750,000 worth of repairs.

Emmons McNaught is also the owner of the art studio Field Workshop, 5686 Broad St. in Greendale, as well as a Miami Shores-based education company, Educate Tomorrow.

Two Weathervanes will pay Parks 15% of its annual revenue once its original investment has been recouped; half of the lease payment will go to Parks and half will be reinvested in the property.

Public access to the grounds would also be maintained for at least eight hours a day. The agreement would allow a wide range of commercial activities and events to take place, including the potential for a restaurant or cafe, as well as housing. Parks reports the likely use as: “Guest lodging, potential for event rentals, food and beverage sales, recreational rentals.”

Emmons McNaught approached the county last September about the property. Parks went through the formal process for such a proposal and released a notice soliciting proposals for the buildings. Emmons McNaught’s proposal was selected.

“Parks has no plans for using these buildings and has provided limited maintenance to them over time,” Parks reported. “There are currently large holes in the roof of the barn and there are concerns with the condition of the barn, some maintenance to the guest house is needed as well.”

Parks has become increasingly hard up for money to make maintenance and infrastructure investments over the past few decades. This is due to the county’s own larger financial problems that have led to years of cuts that have decimated the department’s staffing levels and created a massive maintenance backlog estimated at approximately $500 million.

Buildings all over the parks system are going without repair. Many have been shuttered and unused for years. Parks officials have begun to discuss the possibility of re-evaluating its building portfolio. “We just want an honest look at how that is impacting our ability to invest in anything new as we maintain what’s old,” James Tarantino, deputy parks director, previously said.

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Categories: MKE County, Parks

One thought on “MKE County: Historic Stelzer Barn, A Former Hostel, Could See New Life”

  1. Neal Brenard says:

    This is not an “investment” in the park. Let’s call it what it is: It’s a sale of public park land and property to a private developer. In another word, yet more privatization of Milwaukee’s public park system deceptively presented to the public as an investment. The lakefront public parks and beaches are further privatized every year. Neighborhood and district parks add and expand privately held food and beverage concession operations all over the county. This one looks like it will want to provide lodging (a motel likely) as soon as it can. How fast will the park become mostly a parking lot to support the businesses? Parks are meant to provide the public in densely populated urban / suburban environments with natural, open, maybe even quiet space for recreation and relaxation. The slow dismemberment of the system continues apace and too many elected leaders are all to happy to let it proceed as quickly as possible. Leave them to it, and watch how quickly the county’s great public park system (originally owned and operated exclusively by the County for benefit of the public) is gone for good.

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