Marcus proposal for 4th and Wisconsin includes up to 500-room hotel

VISIT Milwaukee says convention center expansion still necessary under either plan for site

The 2-acre parcel at Fourth Street and Wisconsin Avenue has two proposals to redevelop it.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:13 pm

Marcus Hotels & Resorts’ proposal for the vacant site at 4th Street and Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee includes a hotel with up to 500-rooms, street level restaurants and 100,000 square feet of meeting space according to officials with VISIT Milwaukee who have been briefed on the plan.

However, others familiar with the proposal say the hotel is substantially smaller than that, and would have been 200 and 250 rooms.

The 2-acre parcel at Fourth Street and Wisconsin Avenue have two proposals to redevelop it.
The 2-acre parcel at Fourth Street and Wisconsin Avenue have two proposals to redevelop it.

Milwaukee-based Marcus is one of two groups that responded this fall to an RFP by the city seeking development proposals for the 2-acre site south of Wisconsin Avenue between 4th and 5th streets. The site is owned by the city.

“The Marcus proposal would have 500 rooms in one big hotel connecting to the Hilton (Milwaukee City Center hotel), connecting to the convention center and also with the streetcar running through it,” said Paul Upchurch, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee.

Marcus has not publicly revealed its proposal for the site and did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The other group that responded to the 4th and Wisconsin RFP, Milwaukee-based hotel development firm Jackson Street Holdings LLC, unveiled its plans for the site, to be called Nexus, in early October. The $279.6 million Nexus proposal includes three hotels totaling 506 rooms, 103,000 square feet of meeting space and 22,000 square feet of street-level restaurants, bars and cafés at the site.

Jackson Street Holdings has proposed a mixed-use development with three hotels at the vacant site at Fourth Street and Wisconsin Avenue.
Jackson Street Holdings has proposed a mixed-use development with three hotels at the vacant site at 4th Street and Wisconsin Avenue.

The two competing plans are similar, with the exception of the hotel rooms being split among separate buildings in the Nexus proposal.

Even with the addition of approximately 100,000 square feet of meeting space included in each proposal, Upchurch said the convention center will still need to be expanded.

“The (convention space) problem isn’t solved by (the proposed developments at 4th and Wisconsin),” Upchurch said. “We need meeting space and exhibit space.”

The convention center, which was built in 1998 and is now known as the Wisconsin Center, is about 266,000 square feet, with about 189,000 square feet of exhibit space. Many cities that Milwaukee competes with for conventions have centers with more exhibit space, VISIT Milwaukee officials say. 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.

An expansion would give Milwaukee about 250,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Upchurch said original expansion cost estimates were $170 million to $200 million. He believes the meeting space that either the Jackson Street and Marcus proposals would add to the 4th and Wisconsin site would make the convention center expansion cost cut in half.

Both the Jackson Street and Marcus groups met with the city’s Department of City Development on Nov. 11 to present their 4th and Wisconsin proposals, Upchurch said.

The topic is also on the Wisconsin Center District board meeting agenda on Friday. Under the Nexus proposal, the Wisconsin Center District would fund and own the convention and meeting facilities. The district owns and operates the Wisconsin Center convention center. The convention and meeting spaces would be into and built over the streetcar route. The skywalks will be funded by the city and the Wisconsin Center District, according to the proposal.

VISIT Milwaukee officials did not say if the Marcus proposal is also seeking Wisconsin Center District funds for the meeting space in its proposed 4th and Wisconsin project.

The July the city issued a rolling RFP for the site at 401-441 W. Wisconsin Ave. with an asking price of $4.6 million. The city has already agreed to fund all streetcar-related infrastructure, but has stated tax incremental financing or other city assistance is not available for development of the site.

The city has the option of turning down both proposals.

Milwaukee restaurateur Omar Shaikh who is board chair of VISIT Milwaukee said both proposals are tremendous and would greatly improve Milwaukee’s ability to attract large conventions to the city.

“Right now we can’t compete with our peers,” Shaikh said. “I want to see the expansion of the convention center become a reality.”

Upchurch agreed.

“The Nexus proposal is pretty sexy looking,” Upchurch said. “We have not seen the Marcus proposal, just been briefed on it, but it fills a need too.”

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