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"Going green" has been an emphasis for businesses and consumers alike for years now, but Milwaukee's Hotel Metro was ahead of the curve, using sustainable products upon its construction in the late 1990s to make its 1937 Art Deco building look truly unique.
The former office building – designed by Eschweiler & Eschweiler – was re-imagined by Jamie Hummert, John Ogden and John Wolter when the trio purchased the property in 1996 and they turned the vacant structure over to Madame Liane Kuony, the Belgian-born, Swiss-educated interior designer and chef.
While all six floors house only 63 suites (at an average size of 500 square feet) and Kuony contracted artist Lily Marie for original paintings, what really separates Hotel Metro from many other upscale boutique hotels is not necessarily just who designed it – or what those designs look like – it’s how it was constructed and with what.
The ownership group of Hummert, Ogden and Wolter was environmentally conscious from the outset, and by using sustainable and recycled materials during the construction of the hotel nearly two decades ago, the hotel has maintained a classic Moderne look while still leading the way in sustainability into the second decade of the 21st century.
Because of that early commitment, the hotel was the first in the state to be certified by Travel Green Wisconsin. They also were the first hotel in the city to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) registered.
"They did have a look that they wanted and they did have that feel, that green feel, because they wanted to be different and be that first, upscale boutique (in Milwaukee)," said Kris Willis, who was the Hotel Metro general manager.
"We were one of the first to say ‘sustainable’ or to use the green aspect in that way, but (the style) goes back to the Art Moderne, deco, period. The woods – the black walnut, the bamboo – is to the ‘30s. The Art Deco age was sustainable with the chrome, bamboo, cork, fabric walls. They were ahead. They were trendy and didn’t even know what they were getting in to where now it’s the big thing. Everyone wants it. Everybody wants to be a part of it."
The hotel features bamboo flooring in the lobby, conference room and in the entrances to each floor, while the atrium features cork flooring. The bedroom curtain panels are made from organic cotton and some of the woods used in the lobby, restaurant and common areas were harvested from sustainable forests.
One of the newer features, the "Zen on 7" rooftop area, which was constructed in 2006, also features bamboo flooring and recycled glass tile.
By using sustainable materials upon construction, Hotel Metro has had to look in other areas to create sustainability as time has passed.
One area has been in transportation, as the hotel encourages guests to get around town on complimentary bicycles, and the hotel’s signature London cab uses only soy certified biodiesel fuel (and, it only takes guests to entertainment venues and restaurants in about a mile radius from the hotel).
When lights have needed replacement, florescent bulbs have been put in guest rooms and even the basement-level parking. Rooms have been equipped with motion sensors for thermostats.
"Everybody’s part of it, everybody’s green in some aspects, but we’re more structurally green," Willis said.
The environmental consciousness also applies to the hotel’s menus, which tries to feature locally grown products from Wisconsin farmers as much as possible. The chemical and water usage by staff is also monitored and a hot water heater was installed that uses waste steam condensate.
"You have a little of ‘let’s be conservative and green and sustainable’ but yet it hits the era," Willis said. "It has that feel. The color, the scheme, everything fits."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.