From Racine to Chicago and back again: A local returns home to design new Monument Square hotel | Local News

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RACINE — One of the major initial hurdles for the construction crews turning the long-abandoned Zahn’s department store, which closed in 1981, into the new boutique hotel is actually demolition.

Specifically, workers need to tear down a stairway that had been put in for the failed plan to turn the four-story building into the Imaginarium Children’s Museum.

Wednesday afternoon, four months into the Monument Square project, the developers, designers and city officials gathered for a tour of the Verdant Hotel construction site.

Architectural drawings of the planned Verdant Hotel

Architectural drawing for the planned Verdant Hotel. Originally Zahn’s Department Store, which closed in 1981, the building is in the process of a complete renovation. 

Construction began on Jan. 17 and is expected to conclude in about 12 months, with the hotel potentially being open in spring 2023.

The interior of the building has been gutted in preparation for construction, which includes an expanded footprint, and use of the roof for solar panels and a gathering space.

Mayor Cory Mason said there is much anticipation for the opening of the Verdant and that there is already talk of people reserving rooms for opening night.


Jason Schulte, the senior supervisor on the project for CG Schmidt, said the initial stages of construction include gutting the interior to remove remnants of past projects.

Primarily, about a million dollars of renovations were undertaken in the late 1990s and early 2000s by a committee that hoped to turn the building into the Imaginarium Children’s Museum.

Since that plan folded, nothing much has happened there.

Dominion Properties and CGSchmidt personnel

Representatives from Dominion Properties and CGSchmidt were on hand for the tour of the future Verdant Hotel on Monument Square last week. From left in suit jackets: Rick Schmidt, Mike O’Conner and Eric Schmidt chat with CGSchmidt personnel.

“The building was just crying out for a new use,” said Mike O’Conner, of Dominion Properties.

Included in that renovation was a large stairway in the center of the main floor, which has since been removed, leaving a giant hole in the floor of the second level that will be filled in as construction continues.

The initial construction phase also included preparing the ground next to the hotel for expansion. When completed, the hotel will be flush with the building to the south.


The interior design of the building is being led by The Gettys Group, based in Chicago.

For chairman/CEO Roger G. Hill II, a Racine native, the project has been something of a homecoming.

“Work on this project was a dream of ours,” Hill said. “It makes me proud to be playing a part in the revitalization that’s going on here.”

The Getty Group

The Getty Group was contracted to handle the Verdant Hotel’s branding, interior design, and purchasing. From left: Ben Nicholas, Roger G. Hill and Renata Borro were on hand for the tour last week.

Hill said he has many fond memories of shopping with his mother at Zahn’s and even playing hide-and-seek in the expansive department store.

He also credited his hometown for nurturing his love of architecture and design, pointing specifically to the Frank Lloyd Wright designs sought by the Johnson family.


As seen in this Friday photo, the innards of the former Zahn’s — which could be open as Hotel Verdant by spring 2023 — remain exposed to the elements as construction continues.

Because the interior of the building has been gutted, those on the tour needed to use their imaginations to see what might be there in the future.

Renata Borro, project designer for The Gettys Group, was on hand to explain the design concept, which seeks to make the space feel like “the living room of Racine.”

She said they took inspiration from the Danish concept of hygge, the feeling of cozy contentment pronounced hue-gah or hoo-guh.

“It will be a very welcoming environment,” Borro said. “It’s very approachable, comfortable, and cozy.”

The focal point of the lobby will be a large fireplace that encourages people to linger, mingle and have conversations.

There will be both a bar and restaurant on the main floor. The restaurant will feature an Italian-inspired menu.

The much-talked about rooftop bar, with its views of Lake Michigan, will be designed so that visitors “experience the built environment and nature relationship.”

“It’s been a really exciting project because of the fact it’s adaptive reuse and is such a landmark in the history of the city,” she said.


As seen in this Friday photo, the innards of the former Zahn’s — which could be open as Hotel Verdant by spring 2023 — remain exposed to the elements as construction continues. Currently, you can see straight through the building from certain angles, as shown here, where buildings on Wisconsin Avenue can be seen from Monument Square.

New uses

O’Conner added that the new hotel “was a vision that we had when we first saw the building languishing downtown on the square in a ground-zero, epicenter for everything that happens in Downtown Racine.”

Because Dominion Properties traditionally develops apartments, initially they thought of developing the property for apartments, he said.

But, O’Conner said, “We discovered through a journey, a long journey, that a hotel would really be what this town needs.”