Dave Reid
Plats and Parcels

Northwestern Mutual Could Demolish a City Block

Will entire city block be used to build 1,000 car parking garage? And will The Couture dispute ever get settled?

By - Mar 2nd, 2015 05:48 pm
765 and 771 N. Van Buren St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

765 and 771 N. Van Buren St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

On Friday, Sean Ryan, of the Business Journal, reported that Northwestern Mutual intends to demolish two three-story buildings, located at 765 and 770 [sic 771] N. Van Buren St. John Gardner, NM spokesman told Ryan, “Our long-term plan for the property has yet to be determined.”

In December 2014, the Milwaukee County Board rejected NM’s $14 million offer to purchase O’Donnell Garage, which the company had intended to use to provide parking for their $450 million, 32-story downtown Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons office development. Immediately following the board’s action, NM announced their intention to “build a mixed use real estate development immediately west of its downtown Milwaukee campus.” This mixed-use building would include 1,000 parking spaces for its employees, as well as residential and possible retail components.

In February 2014, NM demolished a building at 795 N. Van Buren St., just down the block from the two additional buildings NM intends to demolish. NM also owns the buildings at 604 E. Mason St., 624 E. Mason St, and The Vermont Apartments at 610 E. Mason St. All these properties are on the same city block.

The company continues to say the plans for these properties are yet to be determined, so I can only speculate, but all signs point to NM demolishing much of this city block in East Town and replacing it with a 1,000 car garage, that could potentially have additional uses.

765 and 771 N. Van Buren St.

Inching Closer to Arena Site Announcement

On Wednesday, the latest big news on the proposed NBA arena broke. The Milwaukee Bucks, we learned, hired the team of architecture and engineering firms that will design the new arena.  The team will be led by Populous, a global architecture firm with experience designing arenas, and includes HNTB and Eppstein Uhen Architects. According to Rich Kirchen, of the Business Journal, the design team of Kahler Slater, Graef, Continuum Architects + Planners, with AECOM, of Los Angeles as the lead, was the runner-up to the Populous led team.

According to Kirchen, Gov. Scott Walker’s budget includes “$2.8 million in state funds to cover the first year of debt payments on his proposal for issuing $220 million of state bonds to help pay for a new arena in downtown Milwaukee.”

But just in case state funding for the arena falls through, Bucks co-owner Wes Edens will survive. On Thursday, Kirchen let Milwaukeeans know that Edens’ firm, Fortress Investment Group LLC, is doing great. He wrote, “it posted record fourth-quarter earnings and achieved an all-time high for assets under management.” Better yet, Kirchen reported that Edens put $150 million of his own money into Fortress Investment Group’s latest permanent-capital pool, Fortress Equity Partners LLC., a startup fund. Good to know.

Latest Populous Projects

The Couture, A Long and Winding Road

In early February 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to hear Milwaukee County’s request to settle a dispute between the county and Preserve Our Parks over the proposed sale of the Downtown Transit Center to developer Rick Barrett for the development of the $122 million, 44-story Couture residential skyscraper. Preserve Our Parks argues the development is illegal because a portion of the site was once part of Lake Michigan and doing so would violate the state’s Public Trust Doctrine. Whereas the county argues the area can be developed given state actions going back to 1913 that defined the lake border as being east of the transit center site, and which were reaffirmed by a state law passed last year.

According to Ryan, the county and city took the issue to Circuit Court, starting a legal process that will likely wind its way back to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

In Other News…

-According to Real Estate Journals, NAI MLG Commercial has increased its team, with the addition of Nathan Winkel as the new director of research.

Barb Zaferos, of the Business Journal, reported that Joe Lak Jr. has risen way up from his days as an intern at Colliers International | Wisconsin Brokerage Division, having recently been named partner in Colliers.

-Multi-Housing News covered some mixed signals for the multifamily market in 2015. On Tuesday, Dees Stribling, contributing editor of Multi-Housing News, reported a survey of commercial and multifamily mortgage firms conducted by the 2015 Mortgage Banker Association indicates that, “every major lender group is expected to increase originations this year,” meaning they will be see an increase in the number of loans to developers.

Later in the week, Stribling reported that, according to the Engineering News-Record, “total construction costs for the 12 months ending in February 2015 were up 2.9 percent.” Stribling then added this caution: “Not exactly a raging monster, but ahead of the broader rate of inflation.” Translation: moderate good news on the development front.

11 thoughts on “Plats and Parcels: Northwestern Mutual Could Demolish a City Block”

  1. robert bauman says:

    Yes it may be some time before the lake bed boundary line is resolved. Unfortunately, this dispute involves more than just the Couture development. The lake bed boundary being advanced by Preserve Our Parks, among others, could interfere with several other potential developments included the proposed Johnson Controls world headquarters at Lincoln Memorial Drive and Clybourn and significant portions of the Italian Community Center land known as the “coach yards” in the Third Ward. This represents an impact of several hundred million dollars in potential development.

    It is further unfortunate and a bit ironic that the lake bed boundary being advanced by Preserve Our Parks would succeed in preserving a whole of lot of steel, concrete and asphalt in the form of freeways, the Hoan Bridge, and parking lots. There is virtually zero green space and no prospect for green space in the areas that would be “preserved”.

  2. John G. says:

    My understanding is that one of the principal’s of POP was a fairly prominent Milwaukee attorney prior to retirement. Is this a case of crackpots with a dash of senility? Strikes me as odd that they would expend their public opinion and real capital fighting this development as this and the rumored JCI building would have an unbelievable impact on the City in visual and economic terms, and likely would provide additional funding of actual public spaces through taxes.

    As someone who almost always sides with environmentalist types, this is beyond infuriating.

  3. George C says:

    Awesome, just what the CBD needs, more parking structures.

  4. Dave Reid says:

    @George C Yup, this is precisely why the O’Donnell Garage deal was so important. That said it is possible that NM could, with great design and a mix of uses, build something great. But if it is just a parking garage that would terrible in my opinion.

  5. John G. says:

    Parking structures are a necessary evil in all urban metros.

    For examples on facilities that are done right, please visit the link below. If done properly, they can easily incorporate a number of other buildings with diverse uses. The below ramp has around 550 stalls, and is surrounded by class A office space, 4 restaurants (3 local), a gym, Walgreens and Starbucks.


  6. Josh says:

    This is so sad….. parking is an automatic dead zone

  7. Rich says:

    Hold up…NM does generally right by MKE and is a company investing in downtown. They also have a public image to maintain, so let’s see some designs before we condemn. Even if the worst they do duplicates the Cathedral Square parking garage, it’ll be alright.

  8. Dave Reid says:

    @Rich No doubt NM has the ability to do this right, but at the same time a new 1,000 car garage being built in East Town could have been avoided.

  9. George C says:

    @John G., the parking bonanza would be more palatable were there some kind stipulated matching of freeway funds for public transportation.

  10. mbradleyc says:

    Can someone give us an idea of the timeline of the Couture lawsuit as it progresses through the court system? it seems like a pretty simple issue. Either the 1913 line the State made into law is upheld or the dubious line that may have existed in 1848 is the rule. Then the question is, if waterborne navigation cannot be achieved on the property in question anyway, what difference does it make?

  11. frank says:

    @mbradley You are correct, sir. It is a simple issue and POP is without a doubt going to lose. But they will appeal and then they will appeal again. Which takes lots and lots of time. That is why this is so frustrating. In the end, Parks will lose and the Couture will finally be built. Tax payer money and time are being wasted because of Preserve our Parks.

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