Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 04:55 pm
Milwaukee developer Rick Wiegand believes his plan to redevelop the former Wisconsin Avenue School into a 23-room hotel will jump start his other west side project, City Campus.
Wiegand, who owns the Ambassador Hotel, has spent the last 25 years working to revitalize the Avenues West neighborhood. He purchased the three-building City Campus complex south of West Wells Street, between North 27th and North 28th streets for $272,000 from Milwaukee County in January 2016.
The campus includes two storefronts occupied by a Chinese restaurant and a clothing store, a two-story office building and a nine story building that was formally Family Hospital.
Wiegand’s intention is to renovate the nine-story building into office space. The property has 160,000 square feet of leasable space.
He is marketing and leasing the property himself and said after meeting with about 20 office tenants, one of the major concerns was the vacant former Wisconsin Avenue School adjacent to the building at 2708 W. Wisconsin Ave.
On Tuesday, Wiegand received approval from the city’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee to purchase the property from Milwaukee Public Schools for $200,000 to convert it into an extended stay hotel.
The $15 million project will also include meeting and banquet space, a restaurant, and an outdoor beer garden.
“I told a few potential tenants what my plan was for the former school and that was comforting to them,” Wiegand said.
Of the various office tenants Wiegand has met with, he said they are a “mixed bag.” He described the group as professional users who do not work in the non-profit sector.
He is hoping to have his first one or two tenants who are looking for 10,000 to 20,000 square feet of space signed by the end of the year.
Wiegand is competing against new office buildings that have recently been built in downtown Milwaukee and the suburbs, as well as recently renovated buildings. But he said his building is affordable, secure, has access to parking and the freeway and is in a good location.
Exterior restorations are currently being done on City Campus and the inside space is white boxed. If an office user were to tour the space they would see potential, Wiegand said.
Being a former hospital, the building was designed for a helipad. Wiegand wants to take advantage of having rooftop access by either creating a viewing space or rooftop dining.
The building has a kitchen in the basement, so adding a restaurant is feasible, he said.
Wiegand has been investing in the Avenues West neighborhood since he started purchasing apartment buildings in 1992. In 1995, he bought the Ambassador Hotel, which was then occupied by drug users and prostitutes.
“I needed to acquire the necessary buildings around it before I could pull the trigger because being able to control your environment is essential,” Wiegand said. “In 2005, I finally finished it.”
During the 10-year renovation process, the hotel remained open, with many people living in it for weeks at a time.
“I gradually improved the quality of our weekly residents,” Wiegand said. “Near the end, when there were some people left who had been living there for 20 or 30 years, I needed to help find them housing. Actually, we put some of them in my apartments.”
During Tuesday’s zoning committee meeting, Alderman Robert Bauman, who represents he district with the Ambassador and City Campus is in, said he supports Wiegand’s projects.
“He has proved himself to be a successful developer in trying to do something to really change things throughout the corridor,” Bauman said.