Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

The Couture Developer Applies For Federal Loan Guarantee

Barrett Lo claims it has raised necessary funding to access critical guarantee.

By - Sep 5th, 2020 09:44 am
The Couture as seen from the north. Rendering by Rinka Chung Architecture.

The Couture as seen from the north. Rendering by RINKA.

Barrett Lo Visionary Development has taken the next step in its efforts to develop a 44-story, $122 million apartment tower on Milwaukee’s lakefront.

The firm has reapplied for a federal loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to support The Couture. The guarantee would serve as insurance on the project’s largest loan.

The application is for a “direct-to-firm” commitment, which would allow Barrett Lo to skip the pre-approval process.

The firm previously received an invitation to apply for a firm commitment in November 2018, but was unable to raise the necessary equity to access the guarantee by a July 2019 deadline. A source familiar with the project said HUD increased the amount of equity that was required as part of the review.

Barrett Lo announced in June that it had raised the necessary financing for the project.

“Earlier this month, we secured the equity funding needed to advance the project and resubmitted our project to HUD. This week, we received a formal invitation letter from HUD and look forward to working closely with them as they review the project,” said developer Rick Barrett in a June statement.

A formal application was submitted on Tuesday. Once certified as complete, HUD has 60 days to review the application and forward it its National Loan Committee for a formal commitment or rejection.

The Couture is planned to include over 300 apartments and 40,000 square feet of commercial space. It would be located on a two-acre site at 909 E. Michigan St. between the U.S. Bank Center and lakefront festival grounds.

“We believe the City and County deserve an extraordinary building on this extraordinary site. We are not willing to settle for less for the community we love. As we have said throughout this process, we are working tirelessly to make this iconic, transformative building a reality,” said Barrett in June.

The developer bought the site at 909 E. Michigan St. from Milwaukee County for $500,000 in 2016. The below-market price was intended to account for the cost of demolishing the Downtown Transit Center structure on the two-acre site. The company, through contractor J&H Findorff & Son Inc. and Viet & Co., demolished the Downtown Transit Center in late 2016.

Findorff, a union contractor, will construct the tower. Because of the city financing, the contractor will have to hire unemployed or underemployed city residents for 40 percent of the project’s work hours as well as city-certified disadvantaged small businesses for 25 percent of the project’s work.

RINKA is leading the tower’s design. Robert W. Baird & Co. joined the project to assist with raising additional equity.

The long-delayed project has caused an extension of The Hop, which would run through its base, to also be delayed. Common Council members have pushed for the city to find an alternative solution to the project, but Department of City Development officials pushed back multiple times saying progress was happening on The Couture.

On May 13th, a Department of City Development official said to hold off until late June before issuing legislative action. “We believe late June we will have an announcement,” said Lori Lutzka, DCD special projects manager.

Barrett said in May 2019 he was working to raise the remaining $15 million in equity needed to fulfill a federal requirement to access a loan guarantee. As of November 2018 it was reported he had raised $25 million already.

The city has agreed to contribute $17.5 million to the project through a tax-incremental financing district to support the construction of a streetcar and bus terminal in the building’s base as well as a three-story public atrium. An additional $2 million was added to the public financing package to pay for relocation of a previously undocumented 48-inch-wide sewer that runs through the site.

The tower was first proposed in response to a county request-for-qualifications process in 2012.


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2 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: The Couture Developer Applies For Federal Loan Guarantee”

  1. rbeverly132 says:

    Just what the city needs – another luxury apartment tower on prime lakefront land. 40,000 square feet of commercial space for what??? Might this not be a site for the Milwaukee Public Museum?

  2. JMcD says:

    The questions might be; does the city need more tax revenue? They do. Can the city support such a building? TBD, but I hope so. It is, in my opinion, a stunningly beautiful design that would enhance the city skyline. I hope it happens.

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