GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) — After being closed for decades, rooms are once again available at Hotel Northland in downtown Green Bay. The hotel reopened on Valentine’s Day 2019.
The project took eight years and $50 million to complete, and while plenty of upgrades were made, many of the elements from the original building remain.
But getting Hotel Northland up and running was a rocky road, and big trouble started in 2017 when the co-owners went separate ways. Construction came to a halt as the separation caused one of the main lenders to back out of the project. As part of a settlement between the original two owners – Keith Harenda was ordered to pay a settlement to Mike Frantz. Eventually, a new lender was found, but just as it seemed things were getting back on track Mayor Schmitt was accused of misusing taxpayer money.
The accusations came in October of 2017. Five Green Bay aldermen said the mayor asked the Redevelopment Authority for $500,000 to keep the Hotel Northland project up and running. But the aldermen claimed the money was really to help Harenda buy out Frantz. And Alderman Guy Zima took things a step further by accusing the mayor of transferring more than $3.2 million to Harenda.
Mayor jim schmitt denied all of the allegations.
“They can say whatever they want,” Schmitt said at the time. “I mean they’re just a mean-spirited, uninformed group of people so I can’t help what they say and how they think.”
The aldermen making the accusations were Guy Zima, Chris Wery, Andy Nicholson, Tom De Wane, and Mark Steuer. Those men faced their own accusations from Alderperson Barbara Dorff who said they held a walking quorum, meaning they gathered together outside of a public meeting to come to an agreement. The aldermen denied the allegations
Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney was hired as special prosecutor for both cases, neither of which has been decided yet.
Guy Zima and Tom De Wane both lost their re-election bids in 2018.
And Hotel Northland was not Mayor Schmitt’s first run-in with financial trouble. In 20-15 Schmitt faced allegations of campaign finance fraud.
As part of a plea deal, three charges were dropped from felonies to misdemeanors, charges Schmitt pled guilty to. Schmitt was ordered to pay a $4,000 fine and serve 40 hours of community service.
Two days after his sentencing, Schmitt attended the city council meeting, where Alderman Guy Zima said Schmitt should resign. The mayor refused, leading to a confrontation after the meeting.
Guy Zima: “How can you possibly…how can you possibly do any business…”
Mayor Schmitt: “I didn’t steal anything. Didn’t you steal some hot dogs? Huh? There ain’t nobody, I didn’t steal…I made a mistake. You stole stuff.”
Guy Zima: “A mistake?”
Mayor Schmitt: “You lost your license…”
Guy Zima: “Mistakes?”
Mayor Schmitt: “You lost your license in trading. You are…”
Guy Zima: “One day?”
Mayor Schmitt; “One day. Your are a crook.”
Other members of city council called the episode embarassing and said episodes like that are not good for the city.