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