Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

State Selects City Sites for New Buildings

Will it build on one or both sites? State now has tough choice to make.

By - Aug 2nd, 2018 05:32 pm
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Intersection of N. 27th St. and W. Wisconsin Ave. (Left image, Google Maps, right image, City Land Report)

Intersection of N. 27th St. and W. Wisconsin Ave. (Left image, Google Maps, right image, City Land Report)

The State of Wisconsin has selected two sites for a new Milwaukee office building and crime lab and is now looking for a project architect. The sites, located at N. 27th St. and W. Wisconsin Ave. and N. 5th St. and W. Michigan St., appear to be clear wins for the city.

The state must now hire a consultant to determine if it should build on one or both of the sites.

The proposal, formally announced on a cold February morning, was originally only for a new, 165,000-square-foot state office building to replace the aging facility at 819 N. 6th St. But the state expanded the scope of the site bidding process in early April to include a new home for what it calls the “Southeastern Wisconsin Law Enforcement Facility.”

The state had originally planned to build a $75 million, 150,000-square-foot crime lab in partnership with Wangard Partners in Wauwatosa, but canceled those plans. The existing crime lab is located in a former grocery store at 1578 S. 11th St.

The combined project budget is now estimated to cost $140 million. The office building portion is expected to have at least 600 employees, most of which will relocate from the existing state building. The state would then sell the 54-year-old building. The crime lab, according to state documents, would have 119 employees.

The state expects to save $1.2 million annually from just the office building portion of the project according to Gov. Scott Walker. The savings would come from energy savings, a reduction in 111,786 square feet of office space leases across the Milwaukee area, and operational efficiencies.

The selection of the 18-parcel 27th and Wisconsin site, assembled by the non-profit Near West Side Partners, won’t come as a surprise to many insiders who told Urban Milwaukee on a condition of anonymity that they thought the request for proposal process was designed to select the 18-parcel vacant block.

Members of the Common Council, led by area alderman Robert Bauman, expressed displeasure at how the Department of City Development was originally going to give the non-profit land for $1, while it was going to pay other for-profit companies hundreds of thousands of dollars for smaller parcels. The city-owned parcels were ultimately sold for $40,000.

The organization is a non-profit, but would do the development through a for-profit LLC that would thus pay property taxes. The project is supported by five anchor institutions, Marquette UniversityMillerCoorsAurora Health CareHarley-Davidson and the Potawatomi Business Development Corporation, as well as the area’s business improvement district.

Regarding the group’s intent for the site, Near West Side Partners executive director Keith Stanley told Urban Milwaukee in February that “there’s a value for this site for any developer.” The group is expected to invest a total of $2.5 million in assembling and clearing the site.

Momentum to redevelop the area has been growing in recent months with the announcement that Ambassador Hotel owner Rick Wiegand would purchase and redevelop the former Wisconsin Avenue School at the northwest corner of N. 27th St. and W. Wisconsin Ave. into the Ambassador Suites hotel.

The 5th and Michigan site is located just two blocks from the current, 54-year-old state office building and includes an existing office building on the site, most recently used by Assurant Health. The company announced it would cease its Milwaukee operations and began laying off 1,200 Milwaukee-based workers in 2015 as part of a 1,800 employee workforce reduction.

The existing five-story building has 370,000 square feet of space according to city records, as well an 800-stall parking garage. Its sister building, now known as The Buckler, was recently redeveloped into apartments by a Chicago-based developer.

The state has published an RFP to select a consultant to provide architecture and engineering services to determine if the state should build on one or both of the sites. Design work is expected to begin in 2019.

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One thought on “Eyes on Milwaukee: State Selects City Sites for New Buildings”

  1. weitenma83 says:

    I worked for Assurant Health before I retired in 2012. The 5th and Michigan building (built by Blue Cross as was the companion building that now houses the Buckler Apts.) was designed to accommodate as many as 4 more floors on top of the existing 5. At that time, Blue Cross had visions of ever increasing business requiring more space. There was an underground passageway between the two buildings, but I am quite sure when the Buckler Apts. were created the connection was completely severed. The Assurant building is not empty as the company that bought Assurant Health’s Group Insurance business uses one of the floors, plus some Assurant corporate staff still has offices there.

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