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Why this development on Milwaukee's North Side would be much more than a hotel

A Milwaukee developer, Kalan Haywood, is seeking $4 million from the city of Milwaukee to help finance a new project which includes an 80-room hotel on the North Side, which is slated to open in time for the 2020 Democratic National Convention. The plan is to redevelop the former Sears building and Milwaukee Mall at the corner of Fond du Lac and North avenues. The majority of this property would become the "Ikon Hotel," if the project goes through.

The entire project, called "One MKE Plaza," also includes plans for a rooftop restaurant and first-floor incubator and office space as well as a 24,600-square-foot conference center. The first floor incubator is designed to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. Haywood said he wants people from all corners of Milwaukee to see this as a hub for entrepreneurship, as well as new products, ideas and services.

One of the reasons that this hotel would be so instrumental for Milwaukee is that Haywood plans to have the hotel up and running in time for the DNC in July 2020. Haywood explained that this is a realistic goal for their team because they had initially planned to get it up and running by the fall of 2020.

"The challenge for us is just moving it up a couple months," Haywood said, "I think everyone embraced the idea."

He also added that the plan is to be successful long after the DNC is over.

"We're not worried about the hotel's longterm viability at all, but we also understand the advantage it gives to show people that may not perceive our neighborhood in the best light, people that may not venture off into certain neighborhoods in Milwaukee—this is a prime opportunity to put this neighborhood and community on center stage."

You hear about food deserts... but also sometimes there's what I call hope deserts or inspiration deserts

Haywood also noted that the project represents a chance to begin spreading the development activity being seen downtown and moving it into nearby neighborhoods.

"We've seen all the great development that's happening near and around downtown Milwaukee. It's super energetic, it's really adding a great vibe to the Milwaukee scene," Haywood said.

He added that he and his team want to challenge themselves to utilize some of that energy and momentum and push it north.

"You hear about food deserts... but also sometimes there's what I call hope deserts or inspiration deserts," Haywood said.

The idea behind the hotel is to create economic growth in the community. He also hopes it will be a catalyst for more development in the future.

"We know that once successful, it really can change the narrative of this neighborhood. We really believe that if this is done right, this could be catalytic," Haywood said.

Haywood stressed that all aspects of the One MKE Plaza project are equally important saying, "It's gonna be a place where people come, work, play, eat. We're going to have the finest restaurants. This is truly going to be One MKE Plaza because we want to embrace all communities, all networks and people from all backgrounds and try to get them to a place where they can share ideas and be around like-minded individuals," Haywood said.

To assist with redevelopment efforts, the city’s Common Council will consider a $4 million loan for the project to Haywood through tax incremental financing (TIF).

The building was previously the site of a Sears store until its closing in the 1980s. It was then used for quite some time as the Milwaukee Mall, but it has been vacant for several years now.

The site has been called the "gateway into the northwest side" and is in close proximity to other recent significant developments like the Sherman Phoenix (also on Fond du Lac) and the Black Holocaust Museum (also on North Avenue).

The City of Milwaukee has also been involved in other nearby projects in recent years, including the expansion of the Fondy Food Center farmer’s market across the street, the building of the Legacy Lofts and the development of the St. Ann Center.

There have also been talks with the Department of Public Works about ways to make Fond du Lac Avenue more pedestrian friendly and to connect these nearby sites with One MKE Plaza.

One option being considered is a pedestrian overpass that would connect the two sites and allow patrons to cross over the street safely.

The proposal will be taken up by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee when it next meets in April.