Hotel, expanded convention center planned on downtown Racine lakefront site

Proposed expanded convention center and Sheraton hotel in downtown Racine. (Courtesy: city of Racine)

Last updated on September 4th, 2019 at 03:11 pm

Downtown Racine’s Festival Hall convention center would be expanded by more than 10,000 square feet and a new Sheraton Hotel with at least 173 rooms would be constructed under a new $48 million proposal unveiled Friday.

The proposed development, which would be built on a city-owned lakefront site, would require the approval of state lawmakers through a new bill that is being introduced by area representatives.

Mayor Cory Mason, along with Dallas-based developer Gatehouse Capital and area state legislators detailed the development plans during a news conference Friday morning at Racine City Hall. The proposal calls for the convention space at Festival Hall to be expanded to more than 27,000 square feet with the addition of break-out rooms and ballrooms that can be sectioned off or combined.

The expanded convention space would include the first floor of the planned Sheraton Hotel, which would be a minimum of 173 rooms and at least six stories tall. It would also include a ground-floor coffee shop and a large bar and restaurant with outdoor observation deck facing Lake Michigan on its top floor. The coffee shop, bar, restaurant and observation deck would be open to the public.

The hotel is to be built on the parking lot directly south of Festival Hall on the northeast corner of Festival Park Drive and Sam Johnson Parkway.

News of the planned new hotel and expanded convention center space comes less than two years after Racine officials decided against moving forward with a separate proposal for a $55 million, 208,000-square-foot hotel and event center at 322 Lake Ave.

“This is the project Gatehouse always wanted to do in Racine,” David-Elias Rachie, principal of Gatehouse, said in a statement. “Two years ago when the city was thinking about a multi-purpose arena, we proposed a project like this but it just wasn’t the right time. 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.”

Because the hotel would be built on an area governed by a lakebed grant, the city worked with area state officials to craft legislation that would allow for the project to move forward.

Specifically, the proposal maintains that all land granted to the city within the lakebed grants remains publicly owned, and that the ground floor of any building must be owned by the city. The city can lease the air rights above the ground floor to private developers. The bill also would require that all lands east of Pershing Park Drive cannot have private investment on them, but allows for less than half of the lands west of the street to include private investment.

Further, the proposed legislation would also require the city to use a minimum of 20% of the property taxes collected from the private development to make improvements to the land that increase public access to the lakefront.

The group of legislators backing the proposal include Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Somers), Rep. Bob Wittke (R-Racine), Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine), Rep. Tip McGuire (D-Kenosha), and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

“I am very happy to be working with the city and my colleagues in both houses on this bill. We are promoting much needed development in our downtown, creating jobs, and increasing investment and usability of public spaces on the lakefront,” Neubauer said in a statement. Neubauer’s district includes the area where the hotel would be built.

Assuming the legislation passes and all local approvals are granted on the project, construction is expected to being in spring 2020 and finish up in about 18 months.

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