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Proposal to turn Days Inn to student housing has support in Wauwatosa

Jan. 11, 2014

After being rejected in Glendale, a proposal to convert a hotel into housing for Chinese students attending Milwaukee-area private high schools is getting a much warmer reception in Wauwatosa.

"It's not going to be perfect. But I know we're going to come up with a really good improvement for the area," Mayor Kathy Ehley said.

That improvement is Wisconsin International Academy's plan to convert the Days Inn hotel, at 11811 W. Blue Mound Road, and its restaurant and banquet center into the Wisconsin International Center.

"Personally, I think this is a step in the right direction for the neighborhood," said Ald. Greg Walz-Chojnacki, whose district includes the property.

Ehley and Walz-Chojnacki spoke at a Wednesday night information meeting about the Days Inn proposal. About 40 people attended, including several nearby residents who generally made positive comments.

The proposed facility, including housing for up to 205 students, a dining hall, study areas, a basketball court and an outdoor recreational area, "seems like a good match" for Wauwatosa, Ehley said in an interview. The center, which needs Common Council zoning approval, is to undergo a Plan Commission review on Monday.

At meetings in September and October, the Glendale Common Council unanimously blocked the for-profit academy's plan to buy the 162-room Milwaukee River Hilton, 4700 N. Port Washington Road, for $8 million and convert it into housing for up to 324 students.

Glendale council members said they were concerned about losing hotel room tax revenue. They also said the Hilton and its Anchorage restaurant are major destinations.

The Hilton's customers include travelers drawn from two nearby business parks, Estabrook Corporate Park and Glendale Technology Center. The Anchorage has been a popular restaurant since it opened in 1974. Several residents from Glendale and other North Shore communities sent letters and emails to city officials opposing the academy's proposal.

The prospect of losing the Days Inn and its Bluemound Gardens restaurant isn't drawing that same response.

The 127-room hotel isn't tied to a business park and doesn't feature a destination restaurant, said Common Council President Dennis McBride.

As for the hotel tax revenue loss, Ehley and McBride note that Wauwatosa has several hotels. That includes upper-end properties such as the Radisson and the Crowne Plaza.

The Days Inn is much older and would benefit from the renovations proposed by the academy, McBride and Ehley said.

"I want a property owner who's going to invest in the property," Ehley said.

Nearby residents who attended the information meeting complained about the hotel's dilapidated fence, which separates the back parking lot from their homes. There also were complaints about late-night traffic from the hotel and its banquet center.

Academy officials said plans include a decorative security fence and converting part of the back parking lot into green space.

Also, there will be less traffic because the students cannot have cars, said project consultant Thomas Stelling, who operates Stelling & Associates Architects Ltd., in Burlington.

The academy will use buses to transport students to Pius XI, Dominican, Martin Luther, Catholic Memorial and Saint Thomas More high schools. The Wauwatosa site is centrally located to those schools, which are in Milwaukee, Whitefish Bay, Greendale, Waukesha and St. Francis, said Matt Gibson, academy principal.

There are now 90 academy students living in two floors leased at the Baymont Inn & Suites, in Glendale. The academy expects to have 140 students by the start of the 2014-'15 school year, and wants to add a summer program that would focus on Milwaukee-area cultural attractions, Gibson said.

The academy's partner, CERNET Education, Science & Technology Research Development Co., operates a similar facility in the Boston area, and has tentative plans to open another center in the Chicago area, Gibson said.

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