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Hendricks to bring new hotel, restaurant to downtown Beloit in May 2018

Several new projects in the city of Beloit are underway for Diane Hendricks, a billionaire Wisconsin native and Beloit College trustee who served as vice chair of the Trump Victory Committee and was an economic advisor for President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Ms. Hendricks’s real estate development company Hendricks Commercial Properties announced plans earlier this month to renovate the Vision Beloit building at 500 Public Ave. in downtown Beloit, about a block from campus, in order to develop a boutique hotel and restaurant in the building’s top two floors.

The company is also in the process of renovating the former Kerry Ingredients plant at 200 W. Grand Ave. into a 70-unit apartment building, and a pedestrian bridge across the Rock River will open soon under Hendricks Commercial Properties. A bronze statue of Kenneth A. Hendricks, Diane Hendricks’s late husband, was erected next to the bridge along the downtown riverfront last week; the statue was produced by artists associated with Rivers Edge Foundry, another company owned by Hendricks.

The renovations to Vision Beloit will accommodate the lobby of the new Hotel Goodwin and will add a larger conference room and offices, as reported by the Beloit Daily News. The business, tourism and economic development groups located on the bottom floor of the building have temporarily relocated in anticipation of the upcoming construction. Hotel Goodwin will feature a fitness center, an outdoor terrace, and two suites, and the project is expected to cost about $5 million.

One source of motivation for the company is the popularity of the nearby Ironworks Hotel, another one of Hendricks’s businesses; rooms there have been in high demand since the hotel’s construction.

The name Hotel Goodwin is a nod to Goodwin House, a luxury hotel that stood in downtown Beloit in the 19th century. The accompanying restaurant, Velvet Buffalo Cafe, will give attention local farmers and artisan vendors and will incorporate “the decor of a turn-of-the-century European cafe,” according to a news release from Hendricks Commercial Properties.

As business partners in 1982, Diane and Kenneth Hendricks established the major private roofing supply company ABC Supply, and the enterprise’s sales have neared $6 billion in recent years. Forbes magazine lists Diane Hendricks, now 70, as America’s second wealthiest self-made woman, following Little Caesars Pizza co-founder Marlene Ilitch. The magazine estimates Hendricks’s net worth at $4.9 billion.

The couple used their wealth to revitalize the city of Beloit’s economy, developing a conglomerate of civic and business developments known as the Ironworks campus at the site of the defunct Beloit Corporation, a manufacturing company that had been Beloit’s largest employer. Following Kenneth’s accidental death in December 2007, Diane has continued her efforts to revitalize the city’s economy.

Her strategy, according to a profile that ran in the New York Times this August: “When Diane Hendricks sees something she doesn’t like [in Beloit], she buys it… Ms. Hendricks thinks [Beloit] can be a place where start-ups create the next billion-dollar idea, and she is remaking the town to fit her vision.” Earlier purchases toward that vision, all in the downtown area next to campus, have included the current sites of Zen Sushi & Grill; Lucy’s #7 Burger Bar; Ironworks Hotel; and the Phoenix complex, an apartment building.

Hendricks has also lent that approach to the school as a trustee. In 2011, she renovated the historic downtown location of the city library into the Hendricks Center for the Arts for Beloit College students studying music and dance.

A number of students and alumni have voiced concerns about Hendricks’s ties to the college, however, in light of her history of support for GOP candidates and campaigns and her participation in President Trump’s presidential campaign last year. She has donated $1 million to the Freedom Partners Action Fund, supporting a nonprofit organization partially funded by the Koch Brothers that sponsors conservative groups and politicians, according to Politico. She also gave $5 million in 2015 to a super PAC supporting Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s presidential campaign.

Hendricks was named vice chair of the Trump Victory Committee in May 2016 by RNC chairman Reince Priebus, and was appointed to the Trump campaign’s economic advisory board that August after its original lineup was criticized for including no women.

Last June, Jeff Simpson’88 wrote an open letter to Beloit College president Scott Bierman, saying that he was “deeply disturbed that Trustee Diane Hendricks, is also vice chair of the Donald Trump Victory Committee.” He wrote of his belief that Hendricks’s roles on both the Victory Committee and Beloit College’s Board of Trustees was “not only a conflict of interest, but also will do lasting damage to the excellent reputation Beloit College has earned and deserves.”

In his response, President Bierman wrote, “I think making decisions about what college relationships pass a principles test based on politically charged interpretations is dangerous… In the time that Diane Hendricks has served on Beloit’s Board of Trustees she has embraced and supported the college’s mission in every way.”

Last September, Tati Rodriguez’19 told the Round Table that she was “not a fan of the thought that someone on the board of trustees for the college is so closely affiliated with Trump,” but that “Beloit College can’t claim to be all-inclusive if we are going to ostracize someone because of their political beliefs.”

Andrew Kouré’19 also told the paper last year that he felt that “one can be in support of Trump…while still supporting an academic environment that allows students to critically evaluate politicians and decide for themselves.”

Nevertheless, Hotel Goodwin is slated to open in May 2018, and more projects under Hendricks’s enterprises aimed at revitalizing Beloit’s economy are most likely in the future.

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