With a 12-4 vote, the Milwaukee County Board has agreed to sell the Downtown Transit Center to Barrett Visionary Development, headed by Rick Barrett, for $500,000. Barrett intends to construct a $122 million mixed-use high-rise project called Couture. It now goes to County Executive Chris Abele, who has already voiced support for the project.
“This project is truly historic, and I’m grateful to the County Board Supervisors who voted to support this plan,” Abele said in a statement. “The Couture project will change the skyline of Milwaukee, while also putting thousands of people to work and greatly improving the public’s access to our Lakefront,”
Barrett is proposing to demolish the Downtown Transit Center on Michigan Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive and build a 44-story high-rise, with 302 apartments. The building’s base would have retail space, a public transit concourse, and a 29,400-square-foot rooftop park.
Barrett is well-known in Milwaukee. He previously built the 30-story Moderne tower at Old World Third Street and Juneau Avenue. Completed in 2012, Moderne has 203 apartments, which are fully leased, along with 14 condominiums and a a ground floor restaurant.
The Couture, designed by Rinka Chung Architecture, was originally supposed to include a 180-room hotel, but that element was eliminated in favor of more apartments. Still, the building will house retail space, including a grocery store.
The project has not been without opposition. Parks advocacy group, Preserve Our Parks, has argued that most of the site was originally under Lake Michigan and therefore private development is forbidden by the state’s public trust doctrine. However, last year Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a bill passed by the Legislature that stated that the site is not subject to the public trust doctrine. Despite the bill, Preserve Our Parks has threatened to sue to overturn the law.
Barrett is asking for Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) for the project. He said the money would be used to support public benefits and amenities and will not be used for any parts of the site that are not open to the public or are income-producing for the developer.
TIF is an economic development tool used by the City of Milwaukee to leverage private development investment. This tool has been available since the state of Wisconsin adopted a TIF statute in 1975. In recent years, TIF has leveraged such high-profile investments as the construction of a new headquarters for Manpower International and the development of the Harley-Davidson Museum.
Couture’s public spaces would include walkways, a plaza, a rooftop park, and a public transportation concourse with a streetcar stop.
Barrett hopes to begin construction next year.
Renderings courtesy Rinka Chung Architecture