Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Couture’s Surprise Sewer Being Moved

Previously unknown sewer will cost city $2 million to move

By - May 23rd, 2017 01:03 pm
Rendering of The Couture

Rendering of The Couture by Rinka Chung Architecture

The nearly two-acre site at 909 E. Michigan St. that Barrett Lo Visionary Development bought from Milwaukee County for $500,000 came with an underground surprise: A 48-inch-wide combined sewer runs north-south through the length of the site near its western edge. The city will now have to spend $2 million relocating the sewer to make way for the proposed 44-story, $122 million tower known as The Couture.

How does an actively used sewer line just disappear from public record? According to the city’s Senior Economic Development Specialist Dan Casanova “the sewer was relocated to this area when Interstate 794 was built in the 1970’s. Unfortunately when it was done, probably because it was done on public land, there was no easement recorded.” Oops.

Casanova went on to note that when the Department of Public Works’ Infrastructure Division was ultimately asked about the piece of infrastructure, its staff were able to detail where the pipes ran. Unfortunately, no one thought to check with them when everyone involved in the project did a title search on the property. If it had been properly recorded, an easement held by the city would have shown up during a title search.

After exploring their options on where to relocate the sewer, the city ultimately settled on the western edge of the site. Typically such a sewer would be relocated under a public street, but heading west to N. Van Buren St. wasn’t a reasonable option according to Casanova because U.S. Bank has underground operations below E. Michigan St. where the U.S. Bank Center straddles the street. Going east to N. Lincoln Memorial Dr. was also ruled out because of the cost.

The new sewer will continue to run through private land, no doubt with a properly recorded easement. It will be in line with the first level of The Couture’s three-story underground garage. According to Casanova, this design change resulted in the project going from two levels underground to three because the sewer consumes the space of approximately 50 parking stalls.

The city will begin work to relocate the sewer this summer, finishing the project in the fall to make way for construction of The Couture. Barrett-Lo, through contractor J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., began demolishing the Downtown Transit Center on the site in late 2016 and finished that work a few months ago.

The design changes associated with the relocated sewer were previously approved when the full Common Council approved a zoning change for the project on April 18th. The city and developer Rick Barrett have known about the sewer for some time, but have been finalizing plans on how to replace it.

The city will pay for the relocation with funds from tax-incremental financing (TIF) district #82. That district, created in 2015 to help finance the streetcar and The Couture, encompasses the 883 East office tower and site of The Couture. In addition to the $2 million for the sewer, another $49,550,000 from the TIF district will go to help finance the streetcar ($31,000,000), public amenities at The Couture ($17,500,000), TIF administration ($500,000), workforce training ($400,000) and repaving a portion of N. Astor St. ($150,000).

The TIF will be repaid from property taxes on the properties within its borders. According to Casanova, an increase in the size of The Couture (now at 312 apartments, and 1,019 parking spaces) and lower than expected interest rates will result in the debt associated with the project being paid off in 18 years. This is a year faster than previously expected. The TIF, as governed by state law, must be paid back and closed by 2042.

Today the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee unanimously approved an amendment to TID #82 to pay for the relocation. The proposal is scheduled to go before the full Common Council next week.

For more information about The Couture, including the public amenities, apartment details and a possible second tower, see our past coverage.


UPDATE: An earlier version of this article inaccurately referred to the sewer as being owned by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District. The sewer is owned by the city.

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4 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Couture’s Surprise Sewer Being Moved”

  1. I don’t suppose they could split the combined sewer in the process…

  2. Jason says:

    Does Barrett pay for anything or is it always city tax payers? Nice job if you can get it.

  3. EthrDemon says:

    Sounds like the mistake was made 40 years ago, probably should be blaming Mayor Maier not Barrett

  4. Jason says:

    Not blaming Tom Barrett. Why does Rick Barrett not pay for anything on this deal? It is truly a sweetheart deal.

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