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Hardly a week goes by that we don’t see an announcement of a new building Downtown, often a mix of apartments and retail, sometimes with parking, too.
But it’s not just residential housing units that are making a mark in the city.
Temporary housing, in the form of interesting hotels, is expanding with a number of openings imminent or on the drawing board for the near future.
And this growth in hotel rooms has a direct and significant impact on convention activity and the city's ability to attract visitors.
Perhaps the hotel drawing the most attention is the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, scheduled to open in the Third Ward in June.
The Journeyman boutique hotel, at Broadway and Chicago, will have 158 rooms, a high-end restaurant and cafe on the first floor and a year-round rooftop bar and lounge with retractable glass windows. Think the Miller Park roof, except made of glass and craft cocktails instead of steel and brats and 100-ounce plastic cups of beer.
Kimpton has 65 boutique hotels in 33 cities and markets its reputation on the strength of what it calls "personal service." The Journeyman is also pet-friendly so that people who travel with pets can stay there.
"We’re thrilled to be opening our first Wisconsin hotel in the heart of this historic Downtown Milwaukee neighborhood," says The Journeyman's General Manager Patrick Gaskin. "The Third Ward is the perfect location for a hotel, putting guests walking distance from Milwaukee's art and fashion scene, the RiverWalk, Milwaukee Public Market and Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design."
A Spring Hill Suites hotel, part of the Marriott chain, is scheduled to open its 155 rooms in June and will be connected to the city skywalk system and the Wisconsin Center.
Spring Hills Suites has been named one of the top 10 places for families to stay and will feature free breakfast and underground valet parking. It will be housed in the 97-year-old Commerce Building at 744 N. 4th St.
Spring Hill is another in the panorama of all-suite hotels springing up around the country. Unlike many all-suite hotels, Spring Hill will feature a full-service restaurant, scheduled to open next year.
In spring 2017, Westin Hotels is expected to open near the lakefront. The 220-room hotel will be built on the east side of Van Buren Street just south of the U.S. Bank building.
The hotel will connect to both the U.S. Bank building and the 833 East building and will include a fine dining restaurant, large lobby bar, fitness center and meeting and ballroom facilities.
Other plans on the drawing board are a include Choice Hotels International plans for 110-150-room Cambria hotel on the northwest corner of Plankinton and Clybourn and a 94-room Hilton Homewood Suites in the historic Button Block building at 500 N. Water St. Both are expected to break ground in the spring of 2017.
The number of hotel rooms in Milwaukee is a major factor in the ability of the city to attract conventions.
There is a plan to expand the convention center on the board, but it has largely been buried by the avalanche of activity about the new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. Once that arena is under construction, attention will turn to discussions over expansion of the convention space.
"Everybody I talk to is in favor of the expansion," says Paul Upchurch, president and CEO of Visit Milwaukee. "The big thing, of course, is how to we raise the money to do it."
Upchurch says that others cities, like Cincinnati, for example, are moving ahead with efforts to attract conventions and visitors.
"Visitors are huge contributors to the local community," he said. "They fly in, stay in hotels, go to meetings and eat out. We are falling behind other cities. Right now we are about the same as Grand Rapids."
Currently, the pace of increasing demand is about equal to the pace of creation of new hotel rooms, but if demand – in the form of added conventions and visitors – doesn’t increase, we are likely to see a slowdown in the interest of investors to build more hotels in the city.
The equation is circular.
You need a bigger convention center. To pay for it you need more visitor dollars in your city. To get those dollars you need bigger conventions. In order to book bigger conventions, you need more hotel rooms.
Complex, yes, but one thing is sure. We don’t want to be Grand Rapids.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
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