|By Tom Daykin, Milwaukee Journal
SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 14, 2011--With a key city endorsement, a $50 million Marriott Hotel proposed for a historic district in downtown Milwaukee appears headed toward Common Council approval next week -- a vote that would pave the way for construction to begin this spring.
"Unless there are some unforeseen circumstances, it looks quite promising" for the full council to approve the hotel plan at its Wednesday meeting, Common Council President Willie Hines said.
Hines spoke after the council's Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee voted 3-2 Thursday to remove a requirement from the hotel that was imposed on Monday by the Historic Preservation Commission.
The preservation commission approved the hotel plan but added a condition that developers said would carry significant costs and kill the deal. That condition, a change in the hotel design to include a 15-foot setback, was removed by the zoning committee's vote.
The appeal by the developer, Jackson Street Management LLC, needs 10 votes from the 15-member council to overturn the preservation commission's ruling.
Ald. Bob Bauman, who sits on both the zoning committee and preservation commission, and Ald. Tony Zielinski voted against the appeal. Aldermen Michael Murphy, Willie Wade and Jim Witkowiak supported the appeal.
The appeal is supported by Hines and Mayor Tom Barrett, as well as business and labor groups who say the project will provide badly needed jobs.
Opposing the appeal are preservationists who say the setback is needed to help the hotel better blend with the adjacent historic McGeoch Building, owned by architect David Uihlein.
Jackson Street Management, led by Mark Flaherty and Ed Carow, wants to build the Marriott near the southwest corner of E. Wisconsin Ave. and N. Milwaukee St.
Their proposal would preserve the facades of some 19th-century Wisconsin Ave. buildings, which are designated by the city as historic, and blend them into the new hotel. The plan calls for demolishing some historic buildings on Milwaukee St.
The preservation commission required a setback from the Milwaukee St. property line.
Flaherty told zoning committee members the setback is a "deal breaker" and would kill a project he says would create 175 to 200 hotel jobs and 350 to 400 construction jobs and that would pay estimated annual taxes of $2.26 million.
Doug Nysse, the project's architect, said redesigning the hotel to accommodate the setback would force the 10-story Marriott to add two more stories in order to have the 200 rooms the developers say are needed to make the project's numbers work.
Another option would be to redesign a second-floor meeting room to have a transfer beam to support the upper floors, said Nysse of Kahler Slater Architects Inc. Either choice would add significant costs to the project, Flaherty and Nysse said.
Nysse also said older buildings within the historic district, bordered by N. Milwaukee St., N. Water St., E. Wisconsin Ave. and E. Clybourn St., do not have setbacks.
Uihlein said the setback amounted to a modest change that would reduce the visual impact the hotel's upper floors would have on surrounding historic buildings, including his property.
The hotel tower "is big, and it needs to be kept away (from Milwaukee St.) because it's not part of the context," Uihlein said.
Bauman agreed, saying the setback would comply with historic design guidelines.
"Buildings tend to last a long time," Bauman said. "That's why it's important to get them right."
But Murphy and other zoning committee members said they need to balance the setback issue with other factors, including jobs generated by the project.
Hines, after the meeting, said that once the developers agreed to preserve the Wisconsin Ave. facades, the Marriott picked up more support among council members. The zoning committee's approval includes a condition that bars the developers from demolishing the buildings until they're ready to begin constructing the hotel.
With city approval, that could start this spring, the developers said.
"Our financing is locked in place, and our agreement with Marriott is solid," Flaherty told committee members.
The Marriott is being financed mainly through money raised from foreign nationals under the EB-5 program. It allows a foreign citizen to obtain a visa by investing at least $1 million, or at least $500,000 in rural areas and areas with high unemployment, with that investment creating at least 10 U.S. jobs. That two-year visa can then be converted into a green card, which provides permanent U.S. residency privileges to the investor, the investor's spouse and children.
Jackson Street Management is not seeking city funds to help finance the Marriott. But the developers do hope to obtain federal New Markets Tax Credits to help fund the project.
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Copyright (c) 2011, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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