Glad to be back

    A Dallas-based real estate development firm has assigned a Milwaukee native to be the point man on a mixed-use development that the company plans to build in the Park East corridor in downtown Milwaukee.

    On a vacant block northwest of Juneau Avenue and Old World Third Street, the Dallas developer, Gatehouse Capital Corp., plans to build a 22-story building with a 176-room luxury hotel, 63 condominiums (priced between $575,000 and $2.7 million) and 20,000 square feet of retail space. The Residences at Hotel Palomar project will include a restaurant managed by a Food Network celebrity chef, a nightclub and a spa.

    Gatehouse assigned Ed Koh to be the on-site project manager for the development. Koh had a similar role with Gatehouse’s W Hotel and Residences project in Los Angeles.

    “I’m on the development side,” said Koh, who was born in England but grew up in the Milwaukee area. “When the (W Hollywood) project became more of a construction thing, they pulled me off of that one with the idea of putting me on this project. This one had been led by some of our front-end guys, the feasibility guys. They run a lot of the preliminary numbers, get the conceptual stuff through. Then they move it to the development people who are more of the execution side.”

    That’s where Koh comes in.

    “I kind of refine all of the models,” he said. “All of the broad strokes are in place. The brand for the hotel, how many condos, which hotel would be a good fit. That’s usually packaged by the time I come in, at least that was the case here.”

    Koh began work on the Milwaukee project in November.

    “You get inundated with all of these legal documents,” he said. “It takes about two months just to kind of assimilate yourself into the project.”

    Recently Koh, 34, moved to Milwaukee to be on the front line for the project here. Koh says he has enjoyed the homecoming.

    “My parents are here,” he said. “It’s been really great to reconnect with them a lot more.”

    After graduating from Marquette University High School, Koh went to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo. He competed on the ski team in college, then lived in Aspen, Colo. for several years as a “ski bum.”

    “In Aspen, you have to work 15 jobs just to make ends meet,” he said.

    In those jobs, Koh was exposed to the hospitality industry, and he became interested in a career in that industry. He eventually went to graduate school at Cornell and entered the school’s hotel business program.

    While at Cornell, he interned for Gatehouse, and the company hired him after he graduated.

    “It was the greatest learning experience I could have had,” Koh said.

    “I came right out of grad school and was really thrown into the fire with W Hollywood.”

    Now that he is back in the Milwaukee area, Koh has discovered that it is not the same city that he grew up around, especially the revitalized downtown area.

    “It still amazes me every time I come back the progress that has been made,” he said. “You drop anybody in the middle of this place, Milwaukee might be the last place that you think you are, but it really looks like you are in any major city in the country.”

    Gatehouse analyzed the downtown Milwaukee market carefully to decide if it was a worthwhile place to invest in a major development, Koh said.

    “It has everything that you need,” he said. “It has all of the economic indicators. There are things we take very seriously in our feasibility. There are certain things, I’m not going to tell you what we look at, (but) Milwaukee has them all.”

    The Gatehouse project could demonstrate just how much downtown Milwaukee has evolved. It could provide an unprecedented level of amenities for this market. Residents living in the project’s condos, called The Residences at Hotel Palomar Milwaukee, will be able to enjoy the amenities of a four-star hotel. Those amenities will include valet service, pet care services and 24-hour concierge.

    “You pull in with a whole bunch of bags, you don’t have to park your car and then carry all of your stuff up,” Koh said. “You pull out and you just leave. Go to your unit. The bellman/doorman will bring all of your bags and groceries. The valet parks your car. When you get up in the morning if you want coffee in your car, it’s there. If you want breakfast in your car, it’s there. You don’t have to go back home to walk your dog anymore. We have pet services to walk, bathe, whatever for your pets.”

    Each condo will have a touch screen system to adjust settings in the residence, get information and order concierge services.

    “The whole residence and hotel is integrated as a Smarthome system,” Koh said. “Usually Smarthome ends with controlling your temperature, music and lighting. Which is great, but now we also have that tied in with the concierge downstairs. So you can call up your car, you can see a menu. It’s kind of bridging the gap between hotel on demand and Smarthome. It’s a great way to use technology to make the lifestyle even more comfortable.”

    With this project, Gatehouse is selling more than just a place to live, the firm is selling a lifestyle, Koh said.

    “Really our product is different than what other people are selling,” he said. “Everybody else is selling a box and calling it luxury. And they are luxurious boxes. But we have more of a concept that luxury is service every bit as much as having nice things around you.”

    Several hotels have been proposed in downtown Milwaukee, but the Palomar Hotel, a brand of San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels, is the most luxurious of those proposed.

    “We’re certainly the most significant four star (hotel) to come along (in Milwaukee) in quite awhile,” Koh said. “And the only ground up that’s come along in awhile. When you do a ground up you have a lot more flexibility to really wow somebody and really incorporate all of the newest technologies in hospitality.”

    The design for the hotel will be contemporary and comfortable.

    “(Kimpton) likes to make four-star comfortable,” Koh said. “That’s the difference between this and our W (hotel) projects. W projects tend to be very high cutting-edge design, where a 50-year-old businessman might feel a little uncomfortable in their bar. This is not going to be that.”

    Gatehouse is hoping to begin construction on the Milwaukee project by the end of this year. It will take about 24 months to build.

    “We’re pretty much ready to go, we just need to sell a few units here,” Koh said. “We’re not going to the debt markets right now. One of the luxuries of being well backed and also being a large developer is that we have the wherewithal to wait out some of the market issues right now. It wouldn’t make sense to go to the market for debt right now, so we won’t.”

    Ed Koh

    Age: 34
    Company: Gatehouse Capital Corp.
    Title: Director, development and investments
    Web pages: www.milwaukeepalomar.com www.gatehousecapital.com
    Development: The Residences at Hotel Palomar Milwaukee (176-room hotel, 63 condominiums, 20,000 square feet of retail space)

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