Green Bay leaders look for answers in Hotel Northland ownership battle

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – The battle over ownership of Hotel Northland continues to be a cause of concern for Green Bay city leaders.

Green Bay has already a little more than $6.1 million towards the $44 million renovation of the historical downtown hotel. But with the most recent legal fight over ownership between Michael Frantz and Keith Harenda, some are questioning who's in charge of the finances.

That question isn't easy to answer at this point. However, that isn't stopping city council from looking into an audit.

Wednesday night, city council members asked the city's financial director to look into the cost of auditing Hotel Northland. The director is tasked with getting three quotes and reporting back to the finance committee as soon as possible.

In documents unsealed earlier this week, we learned that over the past few months there's been an ongoing court battle between Frantz and Harenda over who actually owns the building. A court hearing is scheduled for April 14.

Mayor Jim Schmitt said, "I believe they had a buyout there. Those two guys, they did not get along, and so that was inevitable, it was just going down the road of litigation, but the judge will decide that on Friday."

Asked if he knows who the owner is, Alderman Tom De Wane said, "No. But I believe right now they both are. In my heart, I believe both of them are."

One of the major players in the multi-million dollar renovation turned down a request by a city alderman to appear before the city council.

Alderman Andy Nicholson asked all the parties involved in the renovation of the downtown hotel to attend Wednesday night's council meeting.

Spokesperson Brigette Breitenbach said Keith Harenda "properly acquired all of Mike Frantz's interest in Hotel Northland" in January and Harenda is looking forward to the court hearing next Friday to decide the hotel's ownership.

Breitenbach went on to say Frantz "has no voice in the actions of Hotel Northland."

The reason city council members want to know who the owner is comes down to funding. Earlier this year, one of Hotel Northland's senior lenders backed out of the project, taking an anticipated $12 million with them.

Over the past few months the owners have been trying to find a new senior lender, but city leaders think no bank is going to give them money if the ownership is in question.

But Breitenbach said the Hotel Northland is on track to close on new, senior financing to get the downtown hotel open this fall.

Mayor Schmitt backed that up. "We have a senior lender which we need in this project -- a term sheet signed with a senior lender. We are hopeful that that is going to be executed and we will close on that loan this month and we will be back to work May 1."

The potential lender has not been identified.

In other City Council action on Wednesday:

The council approved a change so the Green Bay Police Department will now have a sworn police officer for animal control calls. For the past six months a patrol officer has been filling the role of animal humane officer, which has been a civilian position. Police Chief Andrew Smith supported making the change permanent, saying many times animal control calls put officers in potentially dangerous situations.

The council also approved plans for new concession areas at Bay Beach Amusement Park. They would offer more upscale desserts, such as scoop ice cream, fudge and root beer floats, playing off the idea of an old-fashioned soda shoppe. The city hopes to begin construction at the end of the amusement park season in the fall and have the new stands ready for opening day in 2018. The plans are part of the mayor's mission to improve the Bay Beach waterfront with a beach, pier and boardwalk.

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