Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Coggs Building Could Be Razed

New analysis finds razing and then constructing new building the most feasible redevelopment option.

By - Jun 14th, 2022 10:55 am
Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center, 1220 W. Vliet St. Photo taken May 19th, 2021 by Jeramey Jannene.

Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center, 1220 W. Vliet St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

It appears the county’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will likely move out of the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center at 1220 W. Vliet St. after all.

In spring 2021, the county’s Facilities Management Division reported that deferred maintenance had left the Coggs building in such a state that the county should sell the building, and soon. Then DHHS announced a few months later that the department thought the county should stay in the facility.

But a new analysis of potential redevelopment options for the 213,000-square-foot facility found that the most feasible path forward for a county-owned human services facility at that site would involve razing or selling the Coggs building and constructing a new and smaller facility on the site.

The Coggs building seemed the ideal location to relocate staff from the Mental Health Complex at the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa, which the county was in the process of vacating. It is also within a few blocks of the new Emergency Mental Health Center, which was being developed at the time. The department wants to maintain a presence in the location, noting in a 2021 report that “Coggs has been a long-recognized location for providing and receiving community services.”

In December 2021, DHHS sought approximately $32.3 million in funding from the county’s $183 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The plan, proposed by DHHS, was to redevelop the Coggs building at an estimated cost of approximately $37 million. It was recommended for approval by the county’s ARPA Task Force.

But a number of supervisors were concerned the project was not completely fleshed out. A major sticking point in the plan was that the county would only occupy about half of the building, and that the largest tenant, the state Department of Health Services, announced that it would not remain at the building.

The state DHS lease provided the county with more than $3 million annually. This covered the annual operating costs for the building, well over $1 million, and provided revenue for the county.

Sup. Shawn Rolland secured approval of an amendment to the legislation funding the project that put the $32.3 million in a contingency account, pending a further review of the project that included a hazardous material assessment, financing alternatives to the county’s finite ARPA allocation and analysis of potential scenarios for both redeveloping the Coggs Center and developing a new facility.

On Monday, officials from DHHS and the county’s Department of Administrative Services returned to the board with the results of that analysis. The financial analysis weighed redevelopment or construction of a new Coggs Center under two scenarios. One would be just for DHHS staff, the other for DHHS and other county departments.

The DAS financial analysis showed the county would save money on construction and the lifecycle of the building if it built a new building on the Coggs site for DHHS staff only.

Aaron Hertzberg director Department of Administrative Services told the county board’s Economic and Community Development Committee Monday that the most financially feasible option that also meets all the county’s needs would be to raze the current Coggs Center and build 100-spaces of surface parking, which the DAS analysis found to be necessary for the new building to accommodate an estimated 150 staff members that will be working there 40 hours a week. The total estimated construction cost for this scenario is approximately $42 million.

The second most feasible scenario, Hertzberg said, would be to sell the Coggs building, build a new facility for DHHS staff on the northern end of the block along W. Cherry Street, which is currently a surface parking lot. But this option does not address the county’s parking needs, and sale of the building would be highly dependent on a developer’s ability to access low-income or historic preservation tax credits, Hertzberg said.

Under both scenarios, the new building would be less than 60,000 square feet, or approximately one third the size of the current building. 

Razing the current building would allow for construction of 100-spaces of surface parking, which the DAS analysis found to be necessary for the new building to accommodate an estimated 150 staff members who will be working there 40 hours a week. The development of the new Emergency Mental Health Center eliminated approximately 200 parking spaces in the area, according to Shakita LaGrant-McClain, director of DHHS.

The new analysis also considered moving some county functions, like Human Resources and the Office of the Comptroller, into the Coggs building, following the announced departure of the state. But the analysis found that this made the project significantly more expensive, whether it was a renovated building or new construction, and that there wasn’t much gained from an operations perspective having these departments working together in the same building.

The DAS analysis also didn’t see the value in renovating or building Coggs to get some county departments out of leased space and into county-owned space. “When you juxtapose what we’re paying in rent versus the cost of new construction, the tradeoff period we believe is just too long,” Hertzberg said.

DAS estimated it would cost approximately $20 million more to build a new building for county staff and other county departments, versus the smaller building for just DHHS staff.

What the county ultimately pursues will be up to the county board, whose vote will release the funding for whatever project is chosen.

Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center

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2 thoughts on “MKE County: Coggs Building Could Be Razed”

  1. dk mke says:

    I wonder if there’s an opportunity for a model similar to the libraries, where there’s a first floor space for City/County needs and upper floors for apartments. Especially in this case there seems there could be a synergy for targeted residents.

  2. NieWiederKrieg says:

    The Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center should be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to treat all of the politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists that spend 90% our taxpayer dollars constructing brand new buildings, tear them down 30-40 years later, replace them with more brand new buildings, and then tear them down 30-40 years later, over and over and over again.

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