County Board adds wage and benefits requirements for Innovation Park hotel

The Milwaukee County Board last week approved an amendment to its development agreement with the UWM Real Estate Foundation for the Innovation Park development, located northeast of U.S. Highway 45 and Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa, for a proposed 128-room extended stay hotel.

However, the board also added an amendment requiring that employees at the hotel be paid wages at “125 percent of the poverty level for a family of four” and that employees at the hotel must receive at least five paid sick days per year. The requirements could be waived by the employees in collective bargaining.

“These are not very onerous restrictions,” said County Board Supervisor John Weishan Jr. “Setting a wage floor of this minimal standard should not be an inconvenience for any reputable developer. There is a huge amount of public subsidy going into this project. I believe it is appropriate that we have these limits to say this is what we expect.”

The UWM Real Estate Foundation had negotiated a deal with the hotel developer, Hospitality Specialists Inc., neither of which could be reached for comment. The foundation bought the land for Innovation Park from the county, which is why it needs County Board approval for changes to the development agreement that was part of that purchase.

The requirements added by the County Board come in at the 11th hour of the development negotiations and could kill the deal for the hotel project, said Brendan Conway, spokesman for County Executive Chris Abele. Abele will consider a veto in hopes that the board will reconsider its action, Conway said.

“This amendment came out of nowhere. What developer is going to want to work with the county when the rug can be pulled out from under them at the last minute?” Conway said. “It’s not a good message to send.”

County Board members were told that adding wage and benefits requirements to the deal would likely kill it, Conway said.

The situation is similar to the Park East corridor in downtown Milwaukee where Milwaukee County has struggled for years to attract development to land that it owns that the County Board added community benefits requirements to for developments, Conway said.

“It’s one of the reasons the county has had such a tough time getting people to go to the Park East (to develop sites),” Conway said.

But Weishan disagrees with that sentiment and said the Park East community benefits provisions are the same as those in the Milwaukee County Research Park, which is almost completely developed.

“There is no proof whatsoever that the Park Eat has been hampered by the modest conditions we have put on those properties,” Weishan said.

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