A Second Empire Bed & Breakfast

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin

Near the middle of college-town Whitewater, there’s a large Second Empire bed & breakfast that the owners are looking to sell. Whitewater’s Planning Commission, on 1.8.18 in the video clip above, had numerous questions for the prospective buyers. The request afterward met with rejection as a change in zoning & conditional use at  Whitewater’s Planning Commission and later at the Whitewater Common Council. The full video of the 1.8.18 meeting is available online. (I’ve no connection to either the buyers or sellers; it’s here a question of sound policy.)

Let’s assume there are a thousand possible regulatory objections to the buyers’ plan.

For it all, there’s still this truth about a bed & breakfast in Whitewater, as the sellers wrote in a letter about the proposed sale:

We have owned the Hamilton House property at 328 W. Main Street for the last 17 years and have maintained it by running it as a bed and breakfast. We are now in the process of trying to sell the property. It has been on the market as a bed and breakfast business for several years. Due to the change in economic climate with the decline in popularity of bed and breakfasts and the advent of internet competition such as Airbnb and third party booking sites, It is difficult to sell the property as a bed and breakfast. In addition, the plans for building a hotel in close proximity may make it less feasible as a bed and breakfast business. We have had the business for sale for some time now and have had no serious offers. We have significantly reduced the asking price over the years. Because of the location and the configuration of the building with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, it is not likely to sell as a high end residence.

We have an offer to purchase the property and its contents for high end student housing; this offer is contingent on rezoning the property to allow occupancy of up to 18 people. We have carefully reviewed and discussed the new use with the prospective buyer. The buyer is purchasing the contents, and its decorations as well as the real-estate. This gives us confidence that the purchaser intends to maintain the property in its current condition. We believe the structure of the offer and the plans, as described to us, would allow the property to be well maintained and cared for at the current standards. Since it is a well-loved landmark on the main street of the community, we believe it would be beneficial to enable such a business to be run in the property, which would sustain the property as an attractive asset to the community.

Perhaps this house will sell tomorrow, of course. There may be – somewhere,  someone – who’s eager to keep the property going in its present style, as a bed & breakfast, in spite of changing economics (and, to be blunt, in spite of the wholesale movement of later, twentieth-century American architecture as far away from Second Empire as possible).

Possible, yes, but unlikely, and that’s Whitewater’s problem: there’s demand in this small city, but it’s not the demand planners, regulators, town officials, etc., find acceptable. And so, in this small city, a house for sale will remain unsold even longer.