Do meeting planners want a 1,000-room headquarter hotel or are the next generation travelers looking for more options when they visit a city?
That question was the fundamental difference in the two proposals presented Friday by the groups competing to develop the Fourth and Wisconsin site in downtown Milwaukee.
Deno Yiankes, president and chief executive officer of investments and development at White Lodging, the Merrillville, Indiana-based company that would manage the hotels, said millennials are looking for more hotel options.
“Having multiple brands creates the type of product that is more sustainable and certainly more durable,” Yiankes said. “We’ve taken what we’ve learned and created a gravity center.”
The Nexus project also includes 103,000 square feet of meeting space and 22,000 square feet of street-level restaurants, bars and cafés.
The meeting space is a key component for the Wisconsin Center District to consider. The district is being asked to manage and pay for it.
Doug Nysse, principal at Milwaukee-based Arrival Partners, said he’s willing to make changes to the square footage of the meeting space. What was created was based on the needs of the Wisconsin Center District, Nysse said.
“This is a thoughtful approach based on the literature that was available,” Nysse said. “The site has some limitations. We’re willing to have a conversation (with the district). We believe the city can support more great hotels.”
Marcus Hotels and Resorts’ proposal for the site, a $125 million plan called eMbarKe, calls for a 276-room expansion of the existing Hilton Milwaukee City Center hotel and a tower with up to 200 apartments.
The hotel expansion would bring the total number of rooms at the Hilton to 1,005, creating a headquarters hotel for meeting planners at the Hilton, said Joseph Khairallah, chief operating officer of Marcus Hotels & Resorts.
“There is a delta between what is happening in Milwaukee and what meeting planners want,” Khairallah said. “Looking at the asset we have and how it is serving the city and how it is serving VISIT Milwaukee, we notice a 1,000+ room (hotel) is the one missing link. Meeting planners don’t want to herd cats, they want everything under one roof.”
Both the Marcus and Jackson Street proposals are in favor of an expansion of the current convention center, the Wisconsin Center, to the north.
The convention center was built in 1998 and is 266,000 square feet, with about 189,000 square feet of exhibit space. A second phase of the convention center opened in 2000, and a third phase was planned to the north but never was completed.
By comparison, Cincinnati has 196,800 square feet; Columbus has 373,000 square feet; Minneapolis has 475,000 square feet; and Indianapolis has two venues totaling 749,000 square feet of exhibit space.
The Jackson Street plan funding breakdown proposes the City of Milwaukee would fund and operate the streetcar component; the Wisconsin Center District would fund, own and operate the meeting space; and private development would fund, own and operate the hotels, Nysse said.
Greg Marcus, CEO of Marcus Corp., said his project will not be done without the convention center being expanded.
“We can’t support more rooms without it,” Marcus said. “And it has to go north first. With an expansion to the north, then it links to the arena district and makes use of this huge new entertainment district. This is the engine. This is the demand generator. We don’t generate our own demand.”