|By Tom Daykin, Milwaukee Journal
SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sept. 26, 2012--Downtown Milwaukee's long-dormant Park East strip is seeing another sign of life: a proposed 110-room upscale extended stay hotel that would be built by the same investors who own the nearby Aloft hotel.
MRH West LLC wants to build the project, possibly an Element hotel, on the west side of N. Old World 3rd St., south of W. McKinley Ave. It would be the latest development on the former freeway strip, where Milwaukee School of Engineering's parking structure and soccer field are being built, and construction is to start on apartments by year's end.
The Element also would be the latest in a series of new hotels in the downtown area, bringing a chain that operates only 10 properties around the country, but none in Wisconsin.
It's the result of increased demand from business and leisure travelers, said Greg Hanis, president of Hospitality Marketers Inc., a local hotel industry consulting firm.
"These new (hotel) brands would not have looked at Milwaukee 10 years ago," Hanis said.
MRH West is seeking to buy the county-owned parcel that is north of where the Sydney Hih Building was recently demolished. The County Board's Committee on Economic and Community Development will consider a resolution authorizing sale negotiations at its Wednesday meeting. Any future sale agreement would need additional board approval.
The Aloft has been leasing the parcel, about one-quarter of the vacant block, from the county for valet parking.
MRH West is led by developer Ed Carow. It's an affiliate of Milwaukee River Hotel LLC, the developer of the 160-room Aloft, which opened in December 2009 at 1230 N. Old World 3rd St.
Carow also leads Jackson Street Holdings LLC, which is building a 200-room Marriott near the southwest corner of E. Wisconsin Ave. and N. Milwaukee St. The Marriott is to open in fall 2013.
The Aloft has been successful, Carow said in a letter to County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. Carow said there's just one nationally branded extended stay hotel in downtown Milwaukee, a reference to the 131-room Residence Inn by Marriott, 648 N. Plankinton Ave.
"We believe the demand exists for this type of project in this part of the city," wrote Carow, who didn't provide the hotel's proposed brand.
Carow and his partners have had discussions with hotel brand franchiser Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., which includes Aloft among its brands, said Evan Zeppos, Carow's spokesman. Starwood's brands also include the Element extended stay hotel chain, which opened its first property in 2008.
Element is an extension of Starwood's Westin chain, and includes a focus on building and operating hotels that use environmentally sustainable business practices. Carow's letter said the proposed hotel would likely have certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Element's guest rooms are designed to include comfortable work spaces, with hotel amenities that feature a breakfast bar as well as a lobby with both work space and a lounge, according to Starwood's website.
Carow and his partners had shown interest previously in buying the partly completed Staybridge Suites extended stay hotel, at the southeast corner of E. Juneau Ave. and N. Water St. But that's no longer under consideration, Zeppos said.
That building was bought out of receivership in June by an affiliate of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and New York-based Square Mile Capital Management LLC.
Square Mile hasn't yet disclosed its plans for the 14-story building, which originally was planned as a 126-room Staybridge, along with 27 apartments.
The Element would be the latest in a series of new downtown-area hotels. They include the Marriott; the 127-room Hilton Garden Inn, opening this fall within the former Loyalty Building, 611 N. Broadway; the 90-room Brew House Inn & Suites, opening by year's end within the former Pabst brew house at the northwest corner of W. Juneau Ave. and N. 10th St.; and Potawatomi Bingo Casino's 380-room hotel, to open in summer 2014.
An Element would fit in well in downtown Milwaukee, Hanis said.
"But the question is, can downtown support all these new hotel rooms, and how fast will they be absorbed?" he said.
(c)2012 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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