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Skeptical neighbors greet Milwaukee hotel project

Sean Ryan
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A proposed 130-room hotel in a Milwaukee east side neighborhood is creating a rift between people who like the idea and those who say the project is out of place.

“Not all of the neighbors are convinced that this is a good idea,” said Stephanie Bloomingdale, who lives across the street from the targeted property and is a member of the Milwaukee Plan Commission and the local neighborhood association. “The reason is most people, me included, would say, ‘Who would put a huge, 130-room hotel in this location?’”

Brady Street Hospitality LLC, which is run by brothers Jay and Rick Walia, requested city permission to build the four-story hotel between Franklin Place and Arlington Street just south of Brady Street, a thoroughfare of shops, bars and restaurants. The hotel would replace a for-sale building.

The area around the project site is diverse, which makes it hard to determine what does and does not fit in, said Alderman Nik Kovac, who represents the area. There is a 20-story public housing high-rise to the north, single-family homes to the west and south, and four- and five-story apartments nearby.

The business owners on nearby Brady Street mostly support the project, Kovac said, because it will bring in more customers.

Jay Walia said he has met with neighborhood residents through the Brady Street Area Association since last year and made many project changes to accommodate concerns. He redesigned the building’s brick exterior to remove anything that makes it look like a cookie-cutter hotel, he said, and added two levels of indoor parking to create more spots and reduce the number of surface parking spaces.

“It is very important for us to work with them so you can come up with the best project that everybody likes,” Walia said. “Then everybody is part of building it. It is not only my project. It is their project, too.”

The location is appropriate for a hotel, he said, because it is close to Brady Street.

“You’ve got coffee shops there, a Walgreens,” he said. “And then you have a print shop, Kinko’s, and beautiful, different types of restaurants and bars.”

Bloomingdale said she is willing to be persuaded that a hotel can fit into the neighborhood, but she said she is skeptical.

“I think there may be a need for a hotel for the Brady Street area,” she said, “but I think it would be better served on more of a main street.”

Grant Gehweiler, chairman of the Brady Street Association board of directors, said he thinks the hotel will work in the Brady Street area. While the Walias have been more accommodating than most developers in reacting to neighbor concerns, he said, the project is certainly not a done deal.

Kovac said he’s unsure whether the public hearings he plans for the project will generate controversy or acceptance.

“Time will tell,” he said. “I haven’t taken a position on this yet.”

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