Milwaukee’s commercial-development boom is about more than just putting up buildings. It is also about instilling a new sense of pride in the city, say those directly involved in the work.
Matt Rinka, principal at Milwaukee-based Rinka Chung Architecture, has seen his firm in recent times design transformative projects such as the Couture high-rise and an entertainment block going up next to the Bucks’ new downtown arena.
Both projects will certainly become new landmarks in Milwaukee.
Rinka noted that Bucks officials’ plans call for the new arena and related developments to be the “living room of the city.” The project involves the construction of three buildings, which will be used for a variety of shops, restaurants and other commercial venues. Connecting that block to the Bucks arena will be a pedestrian mall.
Rinka Chung is responsible for making sure the entertainment block’s public plaza is designed in a way to encourage year-round activity.
“The design is really critical to keeping this plaza a success throughout the year, not only during Bucks’ season but through the offseasons to bring people as a destination,” said Rinka.
The project’s attractions will include a beer garden and other places to get a drink or bite to eat. The plaza, meanwhile, will have play areas, tilted lawns and artwork all among its main features.
The idea is to give people as many reasons as possible to visit the plaza, even if it’s for a short time during the middle of a weekday afternoon.
The arena is not the only way Rinka Chung is leaving its mark on downtown Milwaukee. Well to the east of that project, along the city’s lakefront, the company is working on the Couture 44-story apartment and retail tower which is being developed by Rick Barrett of Barrett/Lo Visionary Development.
“We’ve been thinking about this building from day one as a connector,” Chad Griswold, principal at Rinka Chung, said of the project.
Griswold said a lot of attention has been paid to the Couture’s first couple of floors. That’s where the building will have its commercial space, which is expected to attract foot traffic. The first floor will also feature a stop for the city’s streetcar line and possible even Milwaukee County’s planned bus rapid-transit route.
The Couture will also get plenty of attention from people visiting the nearby Milwaukee Art Museum, Discovery World, Henry Maier Festival Park grounds or the public lakefront parks.
“We’ve been looking at the first few floors of this building as a public-private partnership,” he said.
When people talk about Milwaukee’s building boom, many credit the recently finished 32-story Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. headquarters building for being the project that started it all.
Even as those private projects move forward, government officials are spending heavily on transportation projects such as the 2.5-mile streetcar line and the Lakefront Gateway project. The latter of those two involved moving two interstate ramps further south and rebuilding streets and intersections to better connect downtown with the lakefront and Historic Third Ward neighborhood.
The excitement within the community for these projects is “palpable,” Barrett said.
“Ongoing investments in downtown Milwaukee from the Couture, NML, and the Milwaukee Bucks arena are making Milwaukee a true Midwest destination for employers and residents,” Barrett said. “Coupled with investment in signature infrastructure projects like the street car and Lakefront Gateway, economic development is changing Milwaukee’s skyline, improving the quality of life for local residents and bringing national attention to our great city. ”
Similarly, Steve Morales, associate principal at Rinka Chung, said there has been a clear “resurgence of passion in Milwaukee.” He said that, just a handful of years ago, residents simply weren’t seeing the sorts of projects that are being built now.
Although the projects his firm works on might have different designs and serve different purposes, he said they always have the same objective: To produce something that meets the needs of both residents and visitors.
“That’s what makes what we do very, very satisfying,” he said.