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Hotel Northland: Another opportunity for grandeur

Robert Safford, back, and Hope Anderson, of the Walter Schroeder estate, sign papers during the 1972 sale of the Hotel Northland
Robert Safford, back, and Hope Anderson, of the Walter Schroeder estate, sign papers during the 1972 sale of the Hotel Northland. Press-Gazette photo



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GREEN BAY – In May 1972, the hotel became locally owned when it was purchased by Robert Safford, a Green Bay investor.

The hotel’s shape now resembled a “U” — the result of a seven-story addition in 1946.

Former hotel owner, Walter Schroeder, passed away in July 1967 and with no wife and family, he left behind a multi-million-dollar estate that benefitted many Milwaukee-area charities.

After the purchase, Safford announced plans for a swimming pool and recreation area for the hotel.

“Basically, we want to work around the idea of an elegant hotel that Green Bay will be proud to have,” Safford told local media while announcing a large remodeling project.

But in October 1973, Safford announced the hotel would be renamed the “Port Plaza Inn” to identify it as part of the Urban Renewal Project and the Port Plaza Mall development, and soon began marketing studio and efficiency apartments.

In 1979, Safford redeveloped the property under the government’s Section XIII program for occupancy by those 62 years of age and older.

“The primary benefit of the program is that there is no limit on assets of an individual or couple. Older persons will not be forced to liquidate their assets to become eligible to live in the facility,” Safford said.

Walls came down, as work began on restructuring the hotel into Port Plaza Towers.

Its conversion into subsidized housing, left the city with no convention facility and talks begin immediately on an arena and/or a meeting and banquet facility in the downtown area.

Armed with $2.5 million in tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority in 2009, the Wisconsin Housing Preservation Corporation of Madison, which now owned the property, was looking at two east side properties in which to construct a new facility for its senior residents.

In 2011, Port Plaza residents were moved to the new development and the hotel was now empty and available for restoration.

After two years of discussion on how to revitalize the hotel, an Iowa-based company that focused on historic property restoration outbid two other developers to take over the hotel’s restoration — a project estimated at $20-25 million to complete — with a combination of bank loans, state and federal tax credits and city funding.

But delays in what would provide double the tax credits to the developers continued pushing the project out and by the time it looked like it would move ahead, the project was estimated at over $30 million with seven separate layers of financing.

By the time the funding was finally secured for the project in 2015 and work began, the cost was up to $44 million.

 Meanwhile, the hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But that would not be the end of the journey to bring the hotel back to its former glory.

Next week: A return to glory

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