Jeramey Jannene
Friday Photos

Goodbye Downtown Transit Center

Bus barn is coming down for 44-floor, lakefront high rise, The Couture.

By - Dec 30th, 2016 05:37 pm
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The Downtown Transit Center and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Downtown Transit Center and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

After purchasing the Downtown Transit Center at the end of August, Barrett-Lo Visionary Development is moving ahead with their planned, lakefront high-rise by demolishing the bus barn. Crews are on site daily dismantling the structure. After clearing the site, construction is anticipated to begin on The Couture, a 44-floor luxury apartment tower.

The Downtown Transit Center, located at the eastern end of E. Michigan St. on Milwaukee’s lakefront, had a brief run as a true transit center. When completed in 1992 the facility served as the downtown hub for an express line that connected the northwest side of the city via N. Fond du Lac Ave. to Downtown. That service never caught on and was eventually eliminated. The building lived on as the terminus of a number of routes, serving more as a operator rest stop than as a passenger boarding facility. The facility’s design and location were certainly contributing factors in its lack of use: it had very few windows, felt similar to a cavern on the inside and was located well off the key service corridor of Wisconsin Ave.

Demolition of this mistake by the lake is being led by J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.

To accommodate the demolition, the Milwaukee County Transit System re-routed a number of bus routes in August that previously terminated at the center. The Milwaukee County Historical Society was also in the building in early August removing a transit history exhibit on the building’s second floor.

For photos of what the Downtown Transit Center used to look like, see our August article.

The Couture

The 44-floor The Couture is expected to cost $122 million to complete.  With 302 apartments planned for its upper floors, the building will have a number of other uses incorporated into the lower levels. A substantial commercial component, including restaurant and retail space, will be accessible via a public concourse on the lowest floors. Plans for a hotel, originally included when the project was first announced in 2012, were dropped as the tower went through a lengthy design process. An approximately 800-car parking garage will be built at the base of the building.

A pedestrian bridge is planned to bisect the tower, connecting O’Donnell Park and E. Wisconsin Ave. with the other side of N. Lincoln Memorial Dr. where the Lakefront Gateway Plaza will be created. Rinka Chung Architecture, who is designing the tower, is also part of the team designing the planned park, which has yet to secure funding.

Barrett-Lo acquired the building as-is from Milwaukee County for $500,000. That sale was approved following a lengthy lawsuit involving Milwaukee County and Preserve Our Parks centered around whether the land could be privately developed under state law governing lakefront property and filled land.

Since it was funded in part by the federal government, the sale of the site needed approval from the Federal Transit Administration to avoid an $8 million liability, money the county would have had to repay to the federal government. The FTA granted that approval in April, no doubt aided by the inclusion of the many different transit components.

The streetcar’s lakefront line and proposed east-west bus-rapid transit line are expected to begin operating through The Couture in 2019 at the earliest. Construction on The Couture itself is expected to begin in 2017 following the final preparation work on the approximately two-acre site. As was recently announced by the city, the streetcar will not rely on overhead wires for power during that segment of the route, making the renderings for the project just a bit more accurate.

Developer Rick Barrett has no relation to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

13 thoughts on “Friday Photos: Goodbye Downtown Transit Center”

  1. Jerry says:

    …and downtown Milwaukee moves forward once again!

  2. David Day says:

    I can’t wait for this building. It will be an impressive addition to the skyline and the property tax that comes with it will be a boon as well!

  3. Patricia Jursik says:

    Janene plays fast and lose with the facts surrounding the “sale” for $500,000. This transfer was accomplished through quite a bit of negotiation which included clearing the issue of Public Trust property in which Milw Co. Sued POP, not the other way around. In this case the trial judge did find that part of the property was public trust land but approved the transfer because of the continued public use as a transit center for a bus/street car turn around AND a public park in this building at the upper level of the transit hub. The public needs to insist on this public use and make the developer understand that public access was part of this deal and part of our public trust rights.

  4. Bob says:

    Thank you Patricia Jursik! Well said.

  5. Mary says:

    As Jeramey Jannene noted in his article, the Downtown Transit Center was a mistake and the “facility’s design and location were certainly contributing factors to its lack of use.” It would be nice if Milwaukee County learned from its past mistakes and did not repeat them as it is about to do with its Bus Rapid Transit proposal. This new system will costs millions of dollars which MCTS, local property owners, and the federal government do not have. In addition as everyone knows who currently rides the Gold Line, it is not needed and the proposed increased ridership and economic benefits are simply “pie in the sky” estimates that have no basis in reality. I feel confident in predicting that ten years after millions are spent on developing the BRT line that it will be eliminated like the Downtown Transit Center. There will be no increased ridership, and it will have produced more negatives than positives (the value of homes and businesses along the line will have decreased, traffic congestion will have increased, and the MCTS will be bankrupt).

  6. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Patricia – Thank you for the comment and your years in the trenches on this issue. I corrected the parties on the lawsuit.

  7. Patricia Jursik says:

    Appreciate the authors correction. I wish this project well but hope that these developers know that there is quite a large public contribution and respect the right of ingress and egress in the public part of this project.

  8. Virginia says:

    The really big “Mistake on the Lake” was the demolition of the lakefront landmark train depot on this site. “Milwaukee Record” vividly records its history in text and images.

    “There was talk of saving the lake front depot, or at least preserving its distinctive clock tower but those efforts ultimately came to nothing, largely because local officials were then focused on building a lakefront freeway and had little interest in preserving a building that no longer had an apparent use.

    Charlie House, writing in the Feb.2, 1968 edition of The Milwaukee Journal, described the station in its final days as it awaited demolition.

    ‘The 78-year-old building, once a symbol of affluence and progress in Milwaukee, has ceased to serve its historic purpose as the city’s gateway. The striking clock tower thrusts itself for 234 feet into Milwaukee’s skyline. But it languishes in shabby elegance, used up, debased, slighted, unwanted.

    With a life expectancy which has faded to mere days, it stands as a vandalized, pigeon stained, disconsolate monument to the history of a city which does not care.'”

    Attorney Charlie Kamps and his wife Mary led the campaign and legal challenge that ultimately stopped the proposed lakefront freeway from scarring Milwaukee’s skyline and exceptional lakefront experience. They later co-founded Preserve Our Parks and still serve on its board.

  9. mbradleyc says:

    Well anyway, that was one butt-ugly building. Moving on up!

  10. Milwaukee Native says:

    Update: The above report on the lakefront depot was in “Milwaukee Notebook.”

    https://milwaukeenotebook.com/2014/06/13/photo-friday-the-depot-at-the-lake/

  11. Barbara Richards says:

    It didn’t have to be a mistake. The mistake was in not supporting the use of regional transit with more “robust” measures- such as road taxes, wheel taxes, downtown parking increases, employee bus passes, the now coming BRT’s, and…. Weaning ourselves from the automobile has always been a good idea.

  12. Penrod says:

    The mistake was the grotesque misuse of what ought to be some of the most valuable residential/commercial land in the entire state for a bus garage.

    Only politicians could be that stunningly stupid. Good riddance.

  13. Ryan N says:

    I am fully amused by Patricia Jursik being very skeptical and worried over Barret Lo and public availability when it went out of its way to work in the couture and add extra public space in along with working with the lakefront gateway project and have the pedestrian bridge go through its building. They’ve shown time and time again they plan to fully allow the public to use the public portions of this building. Maybe instead the county board should be worried about fixing the bus funding issue, actually fully funding our parks and not just grandstanding against Abele on the issue, actually helping take down the Estabrook damn, and a million other important things.

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