With planned hotel, West Allis is glad it can fill a glaring vacancy

June 19, 2012

West Allis - At the minimum, a $13 million hotel and banquet facility proposed for across the street from the Wisconsin State Fair would fulfill 20 years of local hope.

"In a number of planning focus groups over the past 20 years, the public's request for a hotel has always rated toward the top," said John Stibal, West Allis development director.

People especially seem to want a hotel that has a facility for family celebrations, Stibal said, and the proposal in theory could meet that desire.

But the development represents more than fulfilling a personal wish list. It would also provide a facility useful to businesses and State Fair events, increase the local tax base, spur development of the rest of the redevelopment district that surrounds it and complete a transition from an area once dominated by an old foundry into something both more aesthetically pleasing close to one of the city's major attractions, city officials note.

Hotel-specific benefits

Hotel amenities will include a pool with a water feature, contemporary fitness room, and a business center. 100 rooms and an 8,000-square-foot banquet facility with seating capacity for 300.

Stibal acknowledges the hotel will be toward the high end, with room rates probably about $100 a night.

Still, he likes the idea that local companies will not have to find lodging in Brookfield or elsewhere for out-of-town clients or executives. That has been the one frustration connected with the city's success in turning Rust Belt relics into thriving new business areas.

In fact, business travelers are expected to be the new hotel's bread and butter, said Mick Hintz, director of construction for hotel developer Waterpark Ventures Management Services, a Wisconsin Dells entity.

The developer also is considering having a small restaurant for hotel guests to make use of the banquet facility's food service capabilities, Hintz said.

The hotel also should benefit from visitors to the State Fair, Wisconsin Exposition Center events and the Pettit National Ice Center, he said.

And vice-versa, according to one fair official.

"It will give us the opportunity to market to events that want lodging close to their events," said Rick Frenette, CEO of the Wisconsin State Fair.

That means more business for the fairground's expo center and more business for nearby businesses, Stibal predicted, adding that the hotel will itself will add about 80 full- and part-time jobs.

Bigger picture

In a broader scope, the hotel would be the centerpiece of what city planners expect to be a $17 million development on nearly eight acres in the neighborhood of 84th Street and Greenfield Avenue.

The hotel at 82nd Street would occupy 3.2 acres. The city is negotiating for a grocery store to occupy 2.8 acres. Offices and possibly a restaurant/pub are envisioned for the former office addition that is the only part of the Milwaukee Gray Iron foundry that's still standing on the site.

Together, the total development could bring in $400,000 a year in additional property tax money, Stibal said. The city and local schools would only get part of that, however, and at first those added revenues will pay off the city's tax-increment financing used to prepare the site for redevelopment. Those expenses should be paid off in a maximum of 11 years, said Stibal, who expects it to be much sooner.

Besides being a boon to the tax base and satisfying a need for hotel rooms for both residents and businesses, the hotel represents a renaissance for that whole area, Stibal said.

Until recently, the neighborhood was dominated by an industrial dinosaur - the Milwaukee Gray Iron foundry - and the nearby vacant Mykonos restaurant, which was demolished last year.

"This will clean up the neighborhood substantially and be a welcome addition to the community," he said.

A hospitable developer

The city had several hotel developers to pick from, but Waterpark Ventures Management Services was head and shoulders above the rest, Stibal said.

"One reason we picked this developer is their experience in the hospitality industry and their commitment to quality," he said.

Waterpark Ventures is still in the process of choosing which hotel chain to operate the West Allis hotel, he added. It is looking at the Hampton Inn & Suites, the Holiday Inn & Suites and the Fairfield Inn & Suites.

"They're all good," Stibal said.

The target is opening Thanksgiving or Christmas next year, Hintz said.

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