Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Can’t Decide on Coggs Building

Committee approves $32 million for new DHHS building, and officials seem to favor razing the Coggs building.

By - Sep 12th, 2022 05:41 pm
Conceptual rendering of new Department of Health and Human Services building. Rendering by Engberg Anderson Architects.

Conceptual rendering of new Department of Health and Human Services building. Rendering by Engberg Anderson Architects.

Milwaukee County seems to be moving forward with plans to demolish the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center building and construct a new facility on the site. Though officials have gone back and forth on this issue.

The building, 1220 W. Vliet St., is owned by Milwaukee County and currently provides office space for staff from the county Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). It also houses the Milwaukee office of the state Department of Health Services (DHS), which the county leases to the state. But the state has plans to vacate the building, which will leave the majority of the facility vacant.

In 2021, the county’s facilities management division reported that the building had a long list of deferred maintenance and that given how expensive it would be to repair and renovate it was in the county’s interest to move out of the building. Then, county DHHS officials announced plans to relocate staff there and sought funds from the county’s allocation of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to rehabilitate the building.

Upon further review, a detailed analysis of redevelopment options for the building found that the most affordable way for DHHS to remain on the site and also have new offices was to raze the Coggs Center building and build new. The loss of its largest tenant, the DHS office, coupled with building’s $45 million in deferred maintenance made it a “financial liability” for the county, as Peter Nilles, Director of Facilities Planning & Development, told the county board’s Community and Economic Development Committee Monday.

So the committee recommended approval of $32.3 million in ARPA funds to help develop a new, 60,000-square-foot building for DHHS administration and Friedens Food Pantries at a cost of approximately $42.2 million. The building and its parking lot would be built on the footprint of the existing Coggs site, on W. Cherry St. between N. 13th St. and N. 12th St. The current project timeline has construction beginning in 2023 and finishing by the end of 2024.

Engberg Anderson Architects has mocked up five potential site plans. In all five plans, the Coggs building needs to be demolished to make room for surface parking. A parking analysis indicates the proposed DHHS administrative building would need 250 parking spaces to accommodate visitors and county staff, according to an August report from DHHS.

“If the existing Coggs facility were to remain after the construction of a new facility, it is estimated that there would be a shortage of approximately 125 to 140 parking spaces,” the report notes. “Construction of a parking structure could alleviate the parking shortage, however, that option is not considered attractive to County DAS-FMD staff due to both initial construction costs (estimated at $30,000+ per stall) and long-term maintenance requirements.”

Not wanting to give up on the Coggs building, DHHS released a request for proposals (RFP) from any private developers interested in acquiring and developing the Coggs building. The RFP stipulated the county’s parking needs and, the August report from DHHS noted, “Positive results from this RFP may reduce the County’s on-going risk of retaining the building, reduce the potential risks associated with demolition, and address the parking needs of the new DHHS facility at the same time.”

But on Sept 9, that RFP was cancelled with a message stating: “County is currently reconsidering options for if/how to dispose of this property. A Request for Information (RFI) or updated Request for Proposal (RFP) may be issued at a later date, when the County has narrowed down our potential plans for this building/parcel internally.”

The county’s Department of Administrative Services estimated the value of the Coggs building at approximately $4.3 million, but the DHHS report notes, “True value can only be determined through exposure to the marketplace.”

The release of the ARPA funds for the project will go before the full board at the end of the month. The rest of the project funding would come from $5.2 million already allocated, and a request for another $4.6 million in finding from the 2023 budget.

Sup. Priscilla E. Coggs-Jones, who is the granddaughter of Marcia Coggs, the late legislator for whom the building is named, asked if the county was planning to get rid of the name for the new building. Nilles said no, explaining that the county has been referring to the proposed new building as the DHHS Administration building to avoid confusion with the current Coggs building.

The county is currently in the process of selecting a construction manager, Nilles said. In order to speed up the project and spend down the ARPA funding by the federal deadline, the county is pursuing a managed, at-risk development of the project that would begin developing before the design was completed.

The Coggs building site is one block away from the recently developed county Mental Health Emergency Center. Deputy Director David Muhammad said the opening of the emergency center “really solidified us in this neighborhood.” The emergency center was located there because a majority of county residents who access emergency psychiatric care live within the 10 ZIP codes adjacent to the facility. Similarly, DHHS wants to maintain a presence near a significant percentage of the residents they serve.

“So we’re looking at this from the vantage point that there was nothing ever wrong with the address, but the building itself — in need of upwards of $40 million of deferred maintenance,” Muhammad said.

Site Plans

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4 thoughts on “MKE County: County Can’t Decide on Coggs Building”

  1. NieWiederKrieg says:

    Why did Milwaukee County officials allow the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center to deteriorate to the point where the building must be demolished?

    Who’s responsible for this huge waste of taxpayer money?

  2. Chris Rute says:

    The proposed surface parking lot that will replace the demolished existing Coggs Building along Vliet Street is in conflict with sound Urban Design principles. It would seem that the temporary relocation of the few remaining offices after the State DHS relocates, demolition of the Coggs Building (if that must be), and construction of the new facility along Vliet Street would be a better solution to improve the pedestrian experience between 12th and 13th Street on Vliet.

  3. steenwyr says:

    Lame. Some of these options turn an entire square city block into a parking lot. I get that the current building can’t be saved, but at least build the new one where the old one is. Rent some FEMA trailers on the empty land during construction and update building codes to reduce parking needs — I’ve seen lines of *people* outside that building in years past but not lines of *cars* or every nearby spot chock full…

  4. TransitRider says:

    Is this the old Schusters department store?

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