Battle brewing over proposed Racine hotel and event center

Incoming mayor opposed, while council president says project should expand

Rendering of the proposed hotel.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:12 pm

A battle is brewing over the proposed hotel and event center in downtown Racine as incoming Mayor Cory Mason wants to stop the project while the common council president says it should be expanded to accommodate Foxconn.

Rendering of the proposed hotel.

During his campaign, Democratic State Rep. Mason, who was elected mayor on Tuesday, said the $55 million project costs too much and does not have the support of Racine residents.

But acting Mayor Dennis Wiser, who will return to his seat as common council president on Nov. 7 when Mason is sworn in, said the project has the support of the majority of the council.

For more than a year, the city has considered building a 208,000-square-foot hotel and event center at 322 Lake Ave. The project would include a three-story, 3,500-seat event center and a seven-story, 150-room adjoining hotel.

The project would be paid for, in part, by a yearly tax increase to homeowners of $11.78 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home.

The city council was expected to vote on the project in December, but will likely not take up the issue until early next year, Wiser said.

This week, city officials met with about two dozen business leaders representing all sectors to discuss the project.

“In the end, they said we need a bigger event center,” Wiser said. “No doubt the need is because of Foxconn.”

Foxconn Technology Group plans to build a $10 billion facility just east of Interstate 94 between Braun Road and Highway KR in Mount Pleasant.

Rendering of the proposed hotel and event center

Mason, who could not immediately be reached for comment, first discussed his opposition for the event center on his Facebook account on Sept. 8. He said after the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to establish its minor league (D-League) NBA team in Racine and instead choose Oshkosh he asked the owners why. They said Oshkosh’s support by the city, county, community and the private benefactor led to the decision.

“Here in a Racine, it is a much different story,” Mason said in a video on his Facebook page. “Some in the city were pushing it, the county was not on board, the private sector was lukewarm and we have no benefactor. Without this we should not move forward, To be clear, I support economic development, but we need to do things that make sense.”

Racine has one confirmed tenant, a United States Hockey League team that will sign a letter of intent when the construction phase of the project is approved.

City officials believe there is also potential to host another 100 to 175 events per year at the event center, which could include sporting events, ice-related events, concerts and special events including proms and weddings.

The $600,000 planning phase of the project, already approved by the common council and included in the city budget, includes a detailed study, which includes coming up with a full financing plan. Mason does not have the authority to retroactively undo any of the work that has already been done in the planning phase of the project, Wiser said.

However, if the common council approves the construction phase of the project, Mason could veto it. Then the council could attempt to override the veto, which would require a two-thirds vote. Wiser expressed optimism that would occur.

“At this point, we have enough votes to overcome a veto,” he said. “The council is very supportive of this project. We are looking at the jobs and the extra dollars this would bring to the city. We’re also watching Foxconn closely, because it will bring more revenue to the city and we want to know what those dollars look like.”

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