Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

State Clearing 27th and Wisconsin Site For New Building

But there isn't any funding for the proposed state office building.

By - Dec 19th, 2022 05:27 pm
Demolition of The Travis Building at 28th and Wisconsin. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Demolition of The Travis Building at 28th and Wisconsin. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The proposed State of Wisconsin office building for Milwaukee’s Near West Side is moving forward, though only a small portion of the project has been funded.

Demolition contractor Veit is demolishing the last seven buildings on the block bounded by W. Wisconsin Ave., W. Michigan St., N. 27th St. and N. 28th St. But the Department of Administration still needs more than $100 million in funding to develop a 200,000-square-foot building on the 2.63-acre block. The Republican-controlled state Legislature stripped funding for the building from Governor Tony Evers‘ past two budget proposals.

In February 2021, the State of Wisconsin Building Commission did allow Evers’ appropriation of $4 million to purchase and clear the site to be released. In March 2021, $2 million was spent to acquire the 17-parcel site from an affiliate of Near West Side Partners. And now Veit is ramping up demolition, with some of the structures already razed.

The new building would replace the Milwaukee State Office Building, 819 N. 6th St., with most employees relocating to the new facility. Conceptual plans approved by the city in 2020 include a 200,000-square-foot office building with a 680-space parking structure. Evers proposed spending $98.5 million to advance the project in his 2019-2021 budget, but the Legislature stripped the bonding authority for the project.

The project grew in 2021, with Evers proposing an even larger building that would have allowed the state to also vacate all of its leased office space in addition to the aging downtown building. That proposal called for $163.6 million in bonding for a 283,000-square-foot building and 1,000-space parking structure, but it was rejected. Evers is due to propose another biennial budget in early 2023.

The concept of a new building dates back to 2017 under Republican Governor Scott Walker. Near West Side Partners (NWSP), now led by interim director Lindsey St. Arnold Bell, won a competitive bidding process to land the new building project and has actively championed the project despite funding uncertainty. Prior director Keith Stanley told a city committee in early 2020 that “no matter what we would like to see a catalytic development at this site.”

NWSP is backed by the area’s anchor institutions including Marquette UniversityHarley-DavidsonMillerCoorsAurora Health Care and Potawatomi Business Development Corporation.

The city has helped support NWSP’s efforts. It sold a parcel to form the site, vacated two alleys that bisect the block and approved a zoning change that would accommodate three conceptual designs of the complex. City records indicate NWSP spent approximately $1.5 million to acquire all of the properties. A state report says that once demolition costs are factored in, NWSP will take a loss on the upfront costs.

A handful of buildings on the block were demolished prior to the state’s acquisition. Veit is now working through what remains.

The Travis Building, at the northwest corner of the block, was the largest remaining structure at four stories. The state gave the city and NWSP a grant of $150,000 in 2021 to prepare for demolition. It was built in 1921 and redeveloped as an office building in 1968 under a design by Mitchell Park Domes architect Donald Grieb. A crew from Veit has spent more than a week removing the facade from the Travis Building.

A two-story building occupied the northeast corner and was last used by a convenience store. City assessment records date its construction to 1870, but it’s been substantially modified several times since then.

Between the two corner structures was a two-story building last occupied by Lenny’s Wisconsin Billiards, 2719 W. Wisconsin Ave., and a two-story tavern building, 2725-2727 W. Wisconsin Ave., that was designed by Crane and Barkhausen in 1896 and housed the Leprechaun Lounge for several decades.

A former Kentucky Fried Chicken building, 605 N. 27th St., was located at the southeast corner. The restaurant itself closed several years ago.

Two wood-framed houses, 626 N. 28th St. and 2716-2718 W. Michigan St., were also still standing.

The remaining lots were either vacant or used for parking.

The office building site is across N. 27th St. from another state office building, a 64,000-square-foot, privately-owned building built for and leased to the Department of Children and Families.

To the north, developer Rick Wiegand is redeveloping the former Wisconsin Avenue School into the Ambassador Suites, an extension of his Ambassador Hotel to the east. He has publicly said his project has been delayed because of delays in the state office project.

Once replaced, the state office building on 6th and Wells would be sold. In 2018, state officials said they expected the site to be redeveloped given the building’s condition and the property’s location across from the convention center.

Demolition Photos

2020 Site Photos

Site Plans

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