West Bend Mutual expansion spurs hotel development next door

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 11:00 am

West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. is in the middle of a massive expansion of its corporate headquarters at 1900 S. 18th St. on the southwest side of West Bend. Meanwhile, developers are planning to build a new hotel near West Bend Mutual, largely to serve visitors to the company’s corporate headquarters.

West Bend Mutual is building a $57.5 million, 210,000-square-foot addition to its 160,000-square-foot corporate headquarters. In addition, the existing building will be renovated to give it a fresh face lift. The entire project is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

“Things are going well,” said John Duwell, senior vice president of claims and administration. “The project is on schedule and on budget.’

West Bend Mutual moved into its current headquarters facility in 1991. At the time 350 people worked there. Today about 700 people work at the headquarters.

“You’d be amazed at how tight it is,” Duwell said. “All of our employees are exercising great patience because they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The expansion project will provide space to meet the company’s needs for at least seven to 10 years, Duwell said.

“When we move there will be some decompresson of work areas,”

he said. “Some people are working in spaces that are much smaller than they should be in.”

Largely to serve business travel generated by West Bend Mutual, West Bend-based American Design & Build and North Liberty, Iowa-based Kinseth Hospitality Companies plan to build an 82-room Hampton Inn & Suites hotel and a 24,000-square-foot office building on a 4.3-acre site at the southeast corner of South 18th Avenue and West Paradise Drive in West Bend. The property is across the street from the West Bend Mutual headquarters.

West Bend Mutual will provide a lot of business for the hotel, Duwell said. The headquarters expansion project will create additional conference space for meeting and insurance agent training. Currently the agent training takes place at centralized locations in the states that the company serves: Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. After the expansion is complete those training sessions will take place in West Bend instead.

“We have found that our agents love to come to West Bend to meet face-to-face with our underwriters. We can accomplish those meetings, combined with training in West Bend,” Duwell said. “We will be bringing agents to West Bend from six Midwest states, and other parts of Wisconsin. The hotel will be a wonderful place for them to stay.”

The hotel would be only the second Hampton Inn & Suites hotel in the Milwaukee area. The other is in downtown Milwaukee. There are two Hampton Inn hotels in Milwaukee and one in Brookfield. Hampton Inn and Hampton Inn & Suites are brands of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Hilton Hotels Corp.

Currently, West Bend has four hotels: AmericInn at 2424 W. Washington St., Country Inn & Suites at 2000 Gateway Ct., Clairemont Inn and Meeting Center at 2520 W. Washington St. and Super 8 at 2433 W. Washington St.

The only other hotel in the northern half of Washington County is the Bonne Belle Motel in Kewaskum, said Roger Kist, executive director of the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Kist said he thinks the location near the West Bend Mutual headquarters is a questionable location for a new hotel, even though it is just a half-mile from U.S. Highway 45.

“If I were building a hotel I wouldn’t have put it there,” he said. “It’s not on the beaten path. Other than West Bend Mutual there aren’t any amenities nearby. People are going to have to drive to get there.”

Kist said a better location for a new hotel would be south of West Bend at the Highway 45 and Pleasant Valley Road interchange near the new St. Joseph’s Community Hospital and the Washington County Fair Park.

The recovery of the nation’s travel industry, more than five years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks devastated that industry, are encouraging hotel development across the country and in southeastern Wisconsin. Nationally, more investors are putting their money behind hotel developments, said Greg Hanis, president of Pewaukee-based Hospitality Marketers International Inc. Investors are attracted to the hotel industry because it has seen dramatic improvement in recent years. However, that improvement is deceiving because the industry is really only getting back to where it was before 911, he said.

Recent developments could create more demand for hotel development in Washington County. Last year Sidney, Neb.-based Cabela’s Inc. opened a new 165,000-square-foot outdoor gear store on a 60-acre site at U.S. Highways 41 and 45 in the Town of Richfield.

When Cabela’s planned to build the store the company wanted to make sure its customers had places to stay over night, Kist said.

“A lot of people, for their vacation, stop at a Cabela’s store,” he said.

The Cabela’s store is expected to attract more development to the Town of Richfield.

Also last year, in the Town of Erin, developer Robert Lang opened Erin Hills, a high end golf course that has received raves from the national golf community and is attracting golfers from outside of the area. The course could host major golf tournaments. Already, the United States Golf Association (USGA) plans to hold the U.S. Women’s Amateur Links Championship tournament at Erin Hills next year. Lang’s goal is to someday bring the men’s U.S. Open to Erin Hills. Eventually, Lang plans to build a small hotel at the golf course.

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