An antiques dealer who owns the former JCPenny building at 7140-44 W. Greenfield Ave. in downtown West Allis has submitted plans to city officials to transform the structure into a new event venue.
Walter Holtz purchased the building in October 2017 for $190,000 just as long-time Milwaukee-area wedding and event planner, Janelle Meyer-Brown, owner of the event and design company Evenement, LLC, was planning a similar project
for the venue.
Meyer-Brown had been planning to purchase the structure at the time, and the sale caused her to abandon those plans. Holtz ended up transferring his antiques business, which had been in Milwaukee, to the space.
A year later Meyer-Brown purchased the historic Story Hill Firehouse
at 407 N. Hawley Road in Milwaukee, transforming it into an upscale wedding venue instead.
Five years later, Holtz has hired Rich Pipek of in.Studio.Architecture to help turn the building, which would be called The Deco, into a three-floor event venue.
Holtz said Tuesday that he decided to explore turning the building into an event space after the COVID-19 pandemic put a dent in his walk-in business at the antique store.
"Well, it is kind of weird story, I have a friend of mine who has two wedding venues in Milwaukee, and he said you should really turn this place into a wedding venue," Holtz said, adding that customers coming to look at antiques in the art deco-era building would often say the same thing.
Originally built as a department store in 1936, the building was sold and repurposed as the Wedding Centre in 1986 which sold and rented merchandise for weddings, like tuxedos.
Pipek said Tuesday that his company is only providing design services for the event space, but that Holtz would be operating the venue or hiring someone to operate it.
Hotlz, who noted that he has a lot of friends in the food and beverage industry, would be hiring about people to help run operations at the venue, which he expects will be able to host close to 800 people.
The 20,400 square-foot building currently consists of a of a full basement and two main floors. Under the latest plans for the space, the basement would be turned into a lounge and preparation area for wedding parties/customers, while the first floor would serve as a reception hall area and the second-floor balcony would provide some additional event space and serve as a balcony overlook and include restrooms, a lounge and photobooth. The third floor would provide space for ceremonies.
Similar to the 2017 proposal, the façade placed on the upper stories of the building decades ago would be removed and replaced with large second-story windows that would be installed in the building's original window locations.
Interior alterations would include, a new four-stop elevator, accessible, multi-stall bathrooms on all three floors. A central grand staircase would also be installed in the building, which was also proposed under the 2017 plans.
Those changes are expected to cost roughly $800,000. The developer expects the new venue to open in the fall of this year, if all permits are approved on time.