An antique dealer who owns the old JCPenny building at 7140-44 W. Greenfield Ave. in downtown West Allis has submitted plans to city officials to turn the structure into a new event venue.
Walter Holtz bought the building in October 2017 for $190,000, as did longtime Milwaukee-area wedding and event planner Janelle Meyer-Brown, owner of events and design company Evenement, LLC, provided for a similar project for the place.
Meyer-Brown had planned to purchase the structure at the time, and the sale caused her to abandon those plans. Holtz ended up moving his antiques business, which was in Milwaukee, to space.
A year later, Meyer-Brown purchased the historic Story Hill Fire Station at 407 N. Hawley Road in Milwaukee, turning it into an upscale wedding venue instead.
Five years later, Holtz hired Rich Pipek of in.Studio.Architecture to help transform the building, which would be called The Deco, into a three-story event venue.
Holtz said Tuesday he decided to explore the possibility of turning the building into an event space after the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on his walk-in business at the antique store.
“Well, it’s a bit of a weird story, I have a friend who has two wedding venues in Milwaukee, and he said you really should turn this place into a wedding venue,” Holtz said, adding that patrons coming to look at antiques in the art deco-era building would often say the same thing.
Originally built as a department store in 1936, the building was sold and turned into a wedding center in 1986, which sold and rented wedding merchandise such as tuxedos.
Pipek said Tuesday that his company only provided design services for the event space, but that Holtz would operate the venue or hire someone to operate it.
Hotlz, who noted he has many friends in the food and beverage industry, would hire people to help run operations at the site, which he said will accommodate nearly 800 people.
The 20,400 square foot building currently consists of a full basement and two main floors. According to the latest plans for the space, the basement would be transformed into a lounge and wedding/client prep area, while the first floor would serve as a reception hall and the second floor balcony would provide additional event space. and would serve as an overhanging balcony and include a restroom, lounge and photo booth. The third floor would provide space for ceremonies.
Similar to the 2017 proposal, the facade placed on the building’s upper floors decades ago would be removed and replaced with large second-floor windows that would be installed in the locations of the building’s original windows.
Interior changes would include a new four-stop elevator, bathrooms accessible to multiple cabins on all three floors. A large central staircase would also be installed in the building, which was also proposed in the 2017 plans.
These changes are expected to cost around $800,000. The developer expects the new site to open in the fall of this year, if all permits are approved in time.