Local developer Charles Bailey has put forward ambitious plans to redevelop the historic building at 600 N. Broadway in downtown Milwaukee into a 62-room boutique hotel with street-level restaurant or retail space.
Bailey says this site was chosen in part due to its proximity to The Hop, the city’s new downtown streetcar system. In fact, the streetcar runs right past the property along North Broadway. The development site is close to a stop near the intersection of North Broadway and East Wisconsin Avenue.
“It’s a really big deal, especially when the system is fully matured (and) it reaches all the areas it’s supposed to be,” Bailey said of The Hop.
The new $128 million streetcar opened to the public in November. The controversial project has its share of critics, but also has attracted significant interest from real estate developers.
“The development community, the real estate community, is really starting to build up around the streetcar,” said Matt Dorner, economic development director of Milwaukee Downtown, Business Improvement District No. 21.
Dorner said that as prime development sites, such as those near the lakefront, begin to fill, the streetcar provides “the next roadmap” in the way of development opportunities.
Real estate development projects in various stages near the streetcar line include, among others: The conversion of the Underwriters Exchange building at 828 N. Broadway into a 90-unit apartment building; the 25-story BMO Tower office building going up at 790 N. Water St.; the renovation of the Milwaukee Athletic Club at 758 N. Broadway; renovations of two retail storefronts at 219-227 N. Broadway; construction of the 11-story Huron Building at 511 N. Broadway; and The Couture, the long-planned 44-story apartment tower to be constructed at 909 E. Michigan St.
The Couture project would include a transit concourse to be used by both The Hop’s Lakefront Line extension and Milwaukee County’s planned bus rapid transit service.
Dorner also noted that commercial real estate brokers have begun to incorporate the streetcar more into their marketing plans for available space in the area. He pointed to the recently renovated Two-Fifty office tower at 250 E. Wisconsin Ave. as an example, saying the owners have used the building’s proximity to the streetcar as a selling point.
When Kansas City-based engineering firm HNTB Corp. recently announced its plans to move its Milwaukee office into the Two-Fifty building this summer, it noted that access to The Hop and other transportation features played a role in this decision.
The streetcar even appeared to be a factor in the decision to locate the 2020 Democratic National Convention in the city. An agreement signed by city leaders calls for The Hop to offer free service during the convention.
In addition, the city is looking to add a line extension that would bring the streetcar to the doorstep of the Wisconsin Center, at the intersection of Vel R. Phillips Avenue and West Wisconsin Avenue. The planned extension is to eventually reach Fiserv Forum, but the city can only partially construct it with the money available.
Jeff Polenske, Milwaukee Department of Public Works commissioner, acknowledged his department has set a goal to finish the extension to Vel R. Phillips and Wisconsin avenues in time for the DNC, but also cautioned that nothing has been finalized.
“Partial funding has been dedicated for this segment but additional local funding will need to be secured and logistical challenges addressed in order to implement the segment in time for the Democratic National Convention,” Polenske said.
Bailey, who also operates the Kinn Guesthouse on South Kinnickinnic Avenue, said he sees fewer people relying on cars for transportation. The streetcar, though its route is currently limited, offers another way for them to move about downtown and nearby neighborhoods.
“Increasingly, my clients aren’t really driving,” he said. “People are getting Ubers from the airport and very few of them have their own automobiles anymore. So, the ability of traveling through the city and not pay for a cab is pretty nice.”
City officials have identified the next places they would like to see the streetcar go. Besides the extensions that will take it near the lakefront and Fiserv Forum, plans call for the system to eventually reach neighborhoods like Bronzeville, Walker’s Point and the Lower East Side.
Bailey and Dorner said these future extensions should prove to make the streetcar even more valuable to the city.