The Clarke Hotel will get a touch of Irish with new ownership

Christopher Kuhagen
The Clarke Hotel in downtown Waukesha was sold on Friday for $1 million to Harp & Eagle Ltd., which owns County Clare, the Irish-themed boutique hotel and restaurant on Milwaukee’s east side.
Published on: 5/23/2014

The Clarke Hotel has certainly seen its fair share of challenges since it opened more than five years ago.

Owners have come and gone, and while the hotel itself has remained in operation, the restaurant and bar at ground level have been dark for some time.

But with new ownership and leadership on the way, a new era will once again begin for the downtown boutique hotel at 314 W. Main St.

The Sheboygan-based Harp & Eagle Ltd., which owns multiple European-style boutique hotels and restaurants in the state, has bought the local hotel for $1 million. The sale closed on Friday, May 23, said Dennis Radtke, director of operations for Harp & Eagle Ltd.

"We see a lot of potential in the hotel and see it as the right property at the right time," Radtke said. "We're very excited to be in Waukesha and part of the community. I'm really looking forward to being in downtown and look to hit the ground running."

Irish properties

The Clarke Hotel purchase joins Harp & Eagle Ltd.'s franchise of hotels, restaurants and pubs throughout the state.

The company is known for its Irish-themed properties: the County Clare Inn in Milwaukee and St. Brendan's Inn & Pub in Green Bay, which serve as both hotels and pub businesses; 52 Stafford Inn in Plymouth, a 19-room hotel; and Ashling on the Lough, a restaurant and pub in Kenosha.

The company's holdings also include the Rochester Inn in Sheboygan Falls and Chateau De Pere French Hotel and Restaurant in De Pere. The latter was the company's most recent acquisition, in 2012.

"We've had that for almost two years and it's doing very well," Radtke said.

Radtke said he plans on turning over the previously upscale dining restaurant at The Clarke Hotel to an Irish-style pub, with a more "casual dining" option.

It will be a big change from when the Black Trumpet restaurant opened in 2008. But Radtke is confident in the restaurant's new model.

"We feel our Irish concept will work well in that space for downtown," said Radtke, who expects the restaurant and bar to reopen by August.

Radtke said he didn't expect major changes to the hotel. The only changes, he said last week, will be altering the hotel's decor to model it after the company's other boutique inns.

"All of our hotels are boutiques so this property really fits into our company very well," Radtke said.

Key metro location

This is the first location for the company in Waukesha County.

"We've always been interested in another metro Milwaukee location," Radtke said.

Radtke said his company was approached by a real estate group about the downtown property within the last six weeks.

"We looked at the property and we liked what we saw, so we made a move," Radtke said.

It's a move many in downtown Waukesha have been hoping for since the Sheboygan-based Community Bank & Trust took it over last year after it filed for foreclosure.

However, before the building was a hotel, it was previously a major eyesore to downtown Waukesha, as it operated as a flophouse. The building was even closed by the city in 2006 for building code and sanitary violations.

The site was soon transformed to a high-end boutique hotel and upscale bar and restaurant after the city gave then-owners Drew Vallozzi and Andy Ruggeri two loans worth $1.5 million. One totaled $750,000 in development incentives through tax incremental financing that would be paid back by the increase in property value and a separate $750,000 interest-free loan to be paid back in room taxes.

The Clarke Hotel was assessed at about $5 million in 2009, according to the city assessor's office. It decreased slightly in 2011 and 2012 to about $4.7 million but dropped significantly in 2013 and 2014 to about $2.8 million, due in part to the hotel going into foreclosure.

The hotel was developed by Bethesda Development LLC, a local investors group.

But according to online tax records, Bethesda Development owed more than $230,000 in taxes from 2011 and 2012. And after the Black Trumpet changed management and reopened as D Mo's Pasta and Chop House in 2010, the restaurant continued to struggle. It closed a year later and has continued to stay vacant.

New ownership, however, is looking to soon change that.