WEST ALLIS — A proposal to redevelop the former Allis-Chalmers building on 70th Street into a hotel, offices and 141 apartments got a cool reception from a city committee Wednesday, April 5.
Members didn't want to jeopardize the large apartment projects already in the works that would add 400 apartments nearby. One is the in the Six Points area, a neighborhood targeted for revitalization.
"Our desire is to have a successful development by Mandel (at Six Points) because we view it as a total revitalization of that neighborhood," said Alderman Tom Lajsic, chairman of the West Allis Safety and Development Committee. "I'm not going to jeopardize that."
Alderwoman Cathleen Probst agreed, saying, "We've made commitments."
Another concern was that the city has many opportunities for apartments, but few for offices and this is one of them.
Spokesmen for the developer, the Santa Fe-based Gemini Rosemont Commercial Real Estate, said the building isn't wide enough for today's open offices that companies want. Also, the ceilings are too low to install all the ventilation work offices require.
Countering that was John Stibl, city development director, who said the offices were full only eight years ago. All the building needs is some investment to bring it up to date, he said. That investment has been lacking for the last eight years, he said.
Before making up their minds, committee members decided to tour the building and other office building sites. The entire common council plus the community development authority members will be invited to come, as will any staff wanting to come. The tour will be before the proposal comes back to committee on Tuesday, April 18.
Not everyone was against the plan.
"If somebody is willing to invest, I don't think we should object," said Alderman Vince Vitale, who sits on the committee. It could be years before another owner, or even this one, might want to take on the project, he said.
But Probst countered saying that the city is past the stage of taking whatever it could get.
"We have the luxury of time," Probst said. "We have to look at the bigger picture."
The city should develop a vision for the east side of the city for 10 years from now, Probst said.
Another factor to be considered is what happens if the apartment demand studies that show there is enough demand for the 400 apartments in the works plus the 141 proposed for the Allis-Chalmers building, said Alderwoman Rosie Reinke.
If the apartments don't fill up, they might reduce the rents, which means they would not attract people with the income levels that would support downtown and Six Points businesses, she said.
"We want a certain clientele in that area," Reinke said.
Monthly rents for the proposed 141 apartments are pegged at $950 for one-bedrooms and $1,100 for two-bedrooms, said Callan Schultz, a spokesman for the Oshkosh-based Keystone Development that would handle the apartment development.
With the office tenants dwindling, the assessed value of the building has gone down to $3 million, from eight years ago when its assessment was $15 million, Stibal said.
"None of us is happy with the decline in assessed value," said attorney Deborah Tomczyk, representing developer Gemini Rosmont. "We've got to figure out how we can get off the dime."
"We have a residential development ready to move forward," she said.
However, the West Allis Plan Commission voted 3-2 against recommending the plan.
If the plan is rejected, the developer/owner has a building that's only 60 feet wide in part, lacking an elevator that serves all the floors and insufficient parking, Tomczyk said. A 60-foot-wide building would be fine for apartments, but not for offices, she contended. Similarly, the eight-foot ceilings would accommodate the ventilation needed for apartments, but not offices, said architect Jason Korb of Korb & Associates Architecture.
"It makes us sit here with no opportunity to move forward," Tomczyk said.
"What's good for the neighborhood is offices," Stibl said. Those who work there would be customers for area businesses and possibly buy homes in the area, he said. This is one of the city's few office sites, he said. "Eventually, somebody's going to reinvest" in the building.