|By Tom Daykin, Milwaukee Journal
SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 8--The first new hotel to be built in downtown Milwaukee since 2001 doesn't have an elevator. It has a lift.
The Aloft Hotel also has a splash, not a pool. And guests who arrive at the circular check-in counter are greeted with "aloha," not "hello."
It's all part of an effort to market the Aloft chain as a fun, less-stuffy alternative to traditional hotels that cater largely to upscale business travelers. Downtown's 160-room Aloft, the chain's first entry in southeastern Wisconsin, opens Dec. 17 at 1230 N. Old World 3rd St., just north of W. Juneau Ave., overlooking the Milwaukee River.
The five-story hotel's rooms are nicely appointed but aren't huge, with 285 square feet for a single with a king-sized bed, and 315 square feet for a room with two queen-sized beds.
"The room is designed to get you down to the lobby," said Lisa Aldrich, general manager. "The energy is all down here. We want to build that casual, fun, energetic atmosphere."
And the lobby is the hotel's showpiece, dominated by a large lounge area, featuring a bar, pool table, local art on the walls and a fireplace. During warmer months, that scene will extend to the outdoor courtyard, which attaches to a publicly accessible riverwalk.
The Aloft also includes a fitness center, as well as four meeting rooms totaling around 5,000 square feet.
But, for a hotel that expects to draw about 70% of its revenue from business travelers, the Aloft is opening at a time when corporate travel remains slow as the economy struggles to recover from a long and deep recession. However, Aldrich and Deborah Perez, director of sales, say they've already received a fair number of advanced bookings.
The Aloft's rates will help it compete with other upscale downtown hotels, Aldrich said. The peak summer weekday rate will be around $159 a night, she said. That will run about $20 a night lower than the rates for downtown's pricier hotels, she said.
Also, the Aloft is the only downtown hotel affiliated with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., a hotel franchisor that includes Sheraton, W Hotels and Westin among its brands. That will help attract downtown business travelers who want to accumulate points on their Starwood-affiliated credit cards, Perez said.
The hotel was built on a former parking lot that lies within the Park East redevelopment area. It's kitty-corner from the future site of the $55.2 million Moderne apartment high-rise that recently received $9.3 million in city loans.
The $27.8 million Aloft also received some public financing, including state environmental cleanup grants totaling $825,000.
It is owned by Milwaukee River Hotels LLC, owned by Ed Carow, Mark Flaherty and Chuck Heath, of Wave Development. The Wave group got involved in the project last year after the original developers, Robert Ruvin and David Florsheim, were stalled on the project.
The city provided $858,000 for the riverwalk segment, dock wall and public plaza, and $278,000 for nearby street improvements. Those funds will be repaid through property taxes generated by the hotel and other development in the Park East area.
The project also is being financed with $10 million in federal New Markets Tax Credits. The credits are used to stimulate economic growth and create jobs in low-income areas, based on census tract data. The credits were provided through the Wisconsin Community Development Legacy Fund, a non-profit group formed by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, Legacy Bancorp and non-profit group Impact 7.
The Aloft is opening with about 25 full-time employees, Aldrich said, and will eventually have 35 to 40 full-time employees.
The project's main lender is U.S. Bank. The hotel is managed by Aimbridge Hospitality.
The last hotel to be built in downtown Milwaukee was the Residence Inn by Marriott, 648 N. Plankinton Ave., which opened in 2001. Since then, other new hotels have come to downtown through remodelings and name changes. Also, over the past year or so, two hotels have been built just outside downtown: the Days Inn and Suites, 1840 N. 6th St., and the Iron Horse Hotel, 500 W. Florida St.
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