Jeramey Jannene
Transportation

Couture Streetcar Extension Decision Pushed to June 2020

"We look like complete fools," says Bauman as Marcoux expresses confidence in project.

By - Oct 2nd, 2019 01:02 pm
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Streetcar extension in E. Michigan St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Streetcar extension in E. Michigan St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

With a groundbreaking date for The Couture still uncertain, the planned streetcar extension through the building’s base continues to cause debate within City Hall.

The city faces a December 31st, 2020 federal deadline to open the lakefront extension of The Hop as a condition of the 2015 Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant that is funding half of the project. The extension, which is partially constructed, would operate along E. Michigan St. and E. Clybourn St. and loop through a three-story concourse in the base of the tower.

City Engineer Samir Amin previously said the city would need to consider other options if the proposed 44-story apartment tower had not moved forward by August 31st.

“We have done that. We have been having some conversations with our partners at the FTA,” said Department of Public Works (DPW) Commissioner Jeff Polenske.

The city’s strategy was again being discussed by the Common Council’s Public Works Committee on Wednesday morning. And Alderman Robert Bauman wasn’t pleased the August 31st deadline meant considering other options, not moving to a plan B.

The city won the federal TIGER grant as part of a competitive process. “A major part of that proposal included transit-oriented development,” said Polenske of the transit terminal included in the base of the new tower.

The transit station would also allow Milwaukee County to avoid paying back the remaining balance on a grant that paid for the construction of the now-demolished Downtown Transit Center.

Tower developer Barrett Lo Visionary Development changed his financing strategy this summer and is now working with Robert W. Baird & Co. to secure the necessary equity financing to build the $122 million building.

“We still have significant confidence the tower will move forward,” said Department of City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux.

But Bauman sees things differently.

“Maybe we’re on different planets here, we’re looking like complete fools, complete idiots,” said the committee chair.

Polenske said one option being considered is seeking an extension with the FTA. Marcoux added that he and Milwaukee County Department of Transportation director Donna Brown-Martin recently went to Chicago to discuss the project with regional FTA leadership.

“We have not asked the FTA for an extension yet,” said Marcoux. “We’re at the point of discussion what the extension looks like and what form it takes.” Polenske had previously said the FTA did not want to discuss an extension.

Why stick with The Couture and not pursue a different development? “It’s visionary. It’s generational in its scope,” said Marcoux. He said the investment community didn’t need to see a timeline from the city on when it would pull the plug.

Bauman rejected Marcoux’s reasoning. “It was political, pure and simple,” said Bauman. The alderman said the lakefront extension and tower was part of a strategy to get philanthropist Michael Cudahy and others to back the project. “Was it ever realistic to be constructed? Very good question.”

“Good thing you’re not under oath today, that’s all I can say,” said Bauman of Marcoux.

The commissioner said he or DCD’s Lori Lutzka is in weekly communication with the developer.

“At some point, if that money is not forthcoming we will have to make a decision,” said Marcoux.

“What is that date?” fired back Bauman.

“That date will be determined in our best judgment,” responded Marcoux.

“Can you understand that may not be acceptable to members of the Common Council?” asked Bauman.

After an extensive exchange between Bauman, Marcoux and Polenske, the DCD commissioner did offer a date. “Mid 2020,” said Marcoux.

“We’ll put that in stone, June 30th, 2020,” responded Bauman. “This is a disgrace that we have allowed this to fester for so long.” Bauman said at the moment the other proposed extensions of the streetcar are dead.

The alderman isn’t standing pat waiting for an update. “I will introduce a resolution on this subject,” said the downtown alderman. He had previously suggested the council should introduce a resolution rejecting the city’s request for an extension and require DPW to build either temporary track through the site or at another point.

Much of the track for the extension has already been laid, terminating in the middle of E. Michigan and E. Clybourn streets just east of N. Van Buren St.

Alderman Nik Kovac cautioned against forcing a temporary solution if The Couture was actually close to raising the necessary funding.

“We really would look like idiots if we spent significant money on a temporary extension and then broke ground on a permanent extension a few months later,” said Kovac.

Attorney Mike Maistelman was in attendance representing Barrett Lo Visionary Development, but declined to comment saying Marcoux did a good job representing the situation.

The city has previously approved a tax-incremental financing district to provide approximately $20 million to relocate a sewer line on the site at 909 E. Michigan St. ($2 million) and build the base of the tower ($17.5 million).

Milwaukee County maintains a clawback provision on the two-acre site, which it sold for $500,000, if the project does not advance.

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Related Legislation: File 190352

More about the Couture

More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.

2 thoughts on “Transportation: Couture Streetcar Extension Decision Pushed to June 2020”

  1. Trmott says:

    Rocky Marcoux.“We still have significant confidence the tower will move forward,” and “It’s visionary. It’s generational in its scope,” and “That date [when apparent that money is not forthcoming] will be determined in our best judgment”.

    Bauman: “Maybe we’re on different planets here, we’re looking like complete fools, complete idiots”, and “Was it ever realistic to be constructed? Very good question.”

    Kovac: “We really would look like idiots if we spent significant money on a temporary extension and then broke ground on a permanent extension a few months later”.

    The developer was in attendance but declined to comment.

    Good move by the developer, not wanting to {openly) join the Idiot Club.

    Having driven over the “dead end” tracks a couple of days ago, why did it seem as if the “bridge to nowhere” of Blues Brothers fame was about to rise up out of the pavement in front of me?

  2. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Thank you, Alderman Bauman, for putting the feet of the COUTURE people in the fire. If they can’t get their financing done, we can’t get the necessary extension of our HOP. We need that extension to keep our HOP an attractive addition to our public transportation services.

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