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Marcus unveils plans for Hilton expansion

Marcus unveils plans for Hilton expansion Banner Image

The Marcus Corp. has released details and renderings of a proposal for a major hotel expansion and high-rise apartment tower at the long-dormant city-owned parking lot at North Fourth Street and West Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee.

Plans from the hotel division of Milwaukee-based Marcus Corp. (NYSE: MCS) include a 276-room expansion of the Hilton Milwaukee City Center, 509 W. Wisconsin Ave., an additional 61,500 square feet of new meeting and exhibit space, a hub for the new downtown streetcar, retail, food and beverage outlets, and a 200-unit high-rise apartment tower. The Marcus proposal, which had been one of two proposals submitted for the site, is being called “eMbarKE.”

The site is adjacent to the Wisconsin Center convention hall and the Shops of Grand Avenue.

The expansion of the Marcus-owned and operated Hilton Milwaukee City Center, Milwaukee’s largest hotel, with 729 guest rooms, would bring the total of convention center-adjacent rooms at the hotel to over 1,000.

In the past, Greg Marcus, Marcus Corp. CEO, has told the Milwaukee Business Journal that his company was ready to expand the hotel by 200 rooms if the Wisconsin Center convention hall was also expanded. The firm expanded the Hilton in 2000 with a 14-story tower of 200 hotel rooms and a water park, that has since been closed.

Marcus’ plans are being made public 80 days after the Milwaukee Business Journal broke the news of the $279 million public-private “Nexus” project proposal for Fourth and Wisconsin, that includes three hotels with more than 506 rooms, a hub for the Milwaukee streetcar, more than 100,000 square feet of convention space, and 22,000 square feet of street level restaurants, bars and cafés.

Nexus is being proposed by a group led by Milwaukee-based hotel developer Jackson Street Holdings, and includes local firms Arrival Partners (development director) and Kahler Slater (architect), along with Indiana-based White Lodging Services (hotel manager). Marriott International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts have expressed interest in the proposed development.

Marcus is drawing distinctions between its proposal and the Nexus proposal. The Marcus proposal says:

• Its hotel expansion will address the "number one request of meeting planners, and directly appeal to the 30 percent of event planners who passed over Milwaukee for convention business specifically because the current offering of hotel room blocks were spread over too many properties."

• It will include up to 200 high-rise apartments, in addition to retail, food and beverage outlets and an essential streetcar hub to "create the bustling, 24-hour environment desired by many meeting planners."

• An expansion of 61,500 square feet of new meeting and exhibit space at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center and eMbarKE will address the need for more exhibit and meeting room space suggested by 50 percent of the interviewed meeting planners.

• Its expansion provides the only enclosed, connected option to already existing parking, a headquarters hotel, meeting/exhibit space and convention space demanded, and not currently or otherwise available.

Marcus executives said the proposal is supported by "realistic funding plan."

"The hotel and residential components mitigate the need for any direct subsidy, and wherein the Hilton expansion leverages an existing asset and would support additional increment to fund the development of Milwaukee’s streetcar," its proposal stated.

City of Milwaukee officials in June released a request for proposals, or RFP, for the block, which called for a hub for the extension of the Milwaukee streetcar, but did not explicitly call for a convention center expansion.

In October, Ald. Bob Bauman, whose district includes the proposed development, told the Milwaukee Business Journal that both proposals should be thrown out because neither were responsive to the city of Milwaukee’s RFP.

Marcus Corp. did not respond to inquiries regarding the total cost of its project.

Dan Shafer
Milwaukee Business Journal

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