Proposed Wisconsin Avenue view

“The developers have gotten everything they wanted,” Alderman Bob Bauman said prior to a vote to remove a setback condition on a proposed Marriott Hotel in downtown Milwaukee.

Shortly after that observation, the City of Milwaukee Zoning, Neighborhood and Development Committee voted 3-2 to remove the condition from a demolition and new construction certificate granted by the Historical Preservation Commission. Alderpersons Bauman and Tony Zielinski voted against the measure to remove the condition.

Common Council President Willie Hines said the decision was the right one, while praising the work of the HPC and Bauman to make the project better. .

“But a $50 million development will go along way to create jobs, a tax base and eliminate blight,” he said.

Developers with Wave Development LLC and Jackson Street Management LLC appealed the HPCs  condition, to push the top three floors of the hotel tower on Milwaukee Street back from the property line 15 feet.

Wave partner Mark Flaherty said the condition was a “deal breaker and job killer.”

Doug Nysse, the project architect, explained that the setback would reduce the number of hotel rooms available from 200 to 176, a 12 percent reduction in potential revenues. He added to maintain the room count two floors would have to be added to the tower, increasing the mass and size of the building.

That would be in direct conflict with the desires of the HPC and its staff to keep the hotel tower in scale with the neighboring buildings.

David Uihlein, an architect and owner of the McGeough Building located just south of the proposed development, had suggested the 15 foot setback at Monday HPC meeting and came to Wednesday’s meeting with full drawings of how the setback could work.  He told the ZMD committee that in his professional opinion that his drawing could meet the conditions set by the HPC.

But other architects and contractors rebuffed Uihlein’s opinion,  saying the setback condition would cost the investors an additional $2.4 – $4 million.

“It is easy to draw something and prove it works but then he doesn’t have to pay for it,” Dennis Klein, owner  of KBS Construction .

Wednesday’s meeting included discussion that was previously blocked – the economic impact of the project. At least 30 members of the Service Employees International Union filled the hearing room, waving placards saying “We Need Good Jobs Now.” Others testified that the committee couldn’t afford to pass this project by, which could provide 350-450 construction jobs and 200 hotel positions.

But historical preservationists tried to convince the committee that restoration and preservation would provide more jobs and economic benefits than new construction.

“It is unfair to pit preservation against jobs,” said Anna-Marie Opgenorth, Executive Director of Historic Milwaukee. “Preservation creates more jobs, more economic activity and more value. I support the project, but I do not support the disregard for historic and economic value of these buildings and the Historical Preservation Commission. Any demolition will destroy the wealth in these historic buildings. I suggest all of you get educated to the real value of these buildings.”

After all of the talk, the majority of the committee seemed to feel the economic impact of a Marriott Hotel in downtown Milwaukee was too great to pass by.

The vote didn’t surprise Opgenorth, but she is not deterred.

“I will continue to make sure our point of view is out there and that people know the benefits of historic preservation. That it keeps more money in Milwaukee and increases the value of new construction.”

There will be one more crack at this issue at next Wednesday’s Common Council meeting, where a supermajority of 10 members will be needed to pass the proposal.

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