Downtown Racine hotel, convention center project relocated, resdesigned

Updated project avoids need for state Legislature approval

Rendering of the proposed expansion of the Festival Hall convention center and new lakefront hotel in downtown Racine.

Last updated on April 29th, 2020 at 05:47 pm

There’s been a change of plans to the proposed expansion of the Festival Hall convention center and new lakefront hotel in downtown Racine, in order to eliminate a needed approval of state lawmakers.

Local officials joined the project developer, Dallas-based Gatehouse Capital, on Monday to announce a redesign and new location for the development.

The project, which will cost at minimum $48 million, includes a hotel with no less than 171 rooms and a 34,950-square-foot expansion of the convention center. The newest plan calls for the hotel to be built at the southeastern corner of Lake Avenue and Kipi Kawi Causeway, which makes up a portion of the current Festival Hall grounds.

Racine officials first announced the project in June, which at that time had the hotel being built on the parking lot directly south of Festival Hall on the northeast corner of Festival Park Drive and Sam Johnson Parkway. But because the hotel would have been located on an area governed by a lakebed grant, state lawmakers would have had to pass legislation allowing its construction.

By changing the location for the proposed hotel, moving it out of the lakebed, the project no longer needs approval of the state Legislature.

“Ultimately, this redesign avoids those issues, fits the space well, and the proposed architecture fits with the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright inspired buildings that exist throughout Racine,” Racine Mayor Cory Mason said in a news release.

The site where the new hotel will be built will be transferred to an affiliate of Gatehouse for $1.

The hotel will be developed and owned by a Gatehouse-owned entity called Racine Hotel Convention Center LLC. It will include a rooftop restaurant and bar, four-seasons observation deck and a connection to a 52,775 square-foot convention center. The rooftop observation deck will be open to the public 360 days a year.

Racine will finance the $21 million cost for the new convention center space, as well as remodeling work to the existing space. Gatehouse will finance the $27.5 million cost for the hotel, though the developer will rely on a number of commitments from the city.

City leaders will need to approve commitments that include funding for the convention center space; the $1 land sale; creation of a developer-funded, pay-as-you-go tax incremental financing incentive; and leasing both the convention center space and public parking spaces near the hotel and convention center to Gatehouse under a long-term agreement.

Once those approvals are in place, Gatehouse will begin finalizing necessary architectural design and engineering work, and acquire final construction pricing from a construction manager. This will in turn allow the developer to finalize the project budget and secure necessary financing.

According to the release, the project could break ground by Nov. 1 and finish within 14-15 months. Officials anticipate a spring 2022 opening.

Festival Hall will hold activities through Dec. 31, but will then close for construction.

“Gatehouse appreciates working with Mayor Mason and his team to now realize this vision: Expand Festival Hall, create the space we need for conventions, and pair it with a destination hotel on this beautiful lakefront,” David-Elias Rachie, principal of Gatehouse, said in the release.

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Alex Zank
Alex Zank covers commercial and residential real estate for BizTimes. Alex previously worked for Farm Equipment magazine and also covered statewide construction news at The Daily Reporter. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism, political science and economics. Having grown up in rural western Wisconsin, Alex loves all things outdoors, including camping, hiking, four-wheeling and hunting.