Harley drops museum plans

Harley-Davidson Inc. said it won’t build a $30 million motorcycle museum at the site of a former brewery in downtown Milwaukee, Wis., because of cost overruns.
Harley’s plan to build the tourist attraction at the former Schlitz brewery was one of the major reasons city officials decided to tear down a freeway and open up 26 acres for as much as $250 million in commercial and residential development, according to published reports.
Harley pulled out of the proposed development because building the museum at the brewery site could force the company to pay as much as $30 million extra, said Matt Levatich, museum director.
“We remain firmly committed to doing a museum,” he said. “But the Schlitz brew house proved too costly to convert to meet our needs.”
The museum was to have been ready for Harley’s 100th anniversary this year, but it will now be at least another two or three years before it opens, Levatich said.
Harley said it had hoped to receive historic preservation tax credits to help finance the conversion of the brew house, which was built in 1890.
But Levatich said too many financial challenges came up as architects and engineers studied the building. The facility required major upgrades to meet building code requirements for fire protection, disability access and other features, he said.
Harley said it only seriously questioned the brew house site in late July, when a second major cost escalation occurred.
Levatich said Harley will start searching for other potential locations, preferably downtown.
The project’s cost estimate increased from $24 million in 1999 to $38.5 million in spring 2001, Levatich said. The second big jump, to $52 million, came in July of this year, he said.
“Its difficult for people who aren’t familiar with major construction projects to understand how the costs could rise so steeply,” Levatich said. He used the analogy of a homeowner who approves a big renovation project based on estimates but finds surprises once the work begins.
The Harley museum was expected to be among Milwaukee’s largest tourist attractions, with company officials expecting to draw 350,000 people a year. The for-profit museum would have estimated annual revenue of $12 million, according to the company.

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