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Hammes Co. headquarters proposal gets support from city leaders

In throwing his support behind a planned headquarters building for Hammes Co. in downtown Milwaukee, a city official argued it’s not a local government’s place to cite architectural designs as a reason to approve or deny a development proposal.

Alderman Nik Kovak was among the members of a Common Council committee that, on Monday, unanimously recommended that the city allow the Brookfield-based developer to build its new downtown headquarters building on a site just north of downtown.

Hammes Co. officials announced plans in October to pursue the $27 million project on a now-vacant piece of land at 210 E. Knapp St. The development proposal calls for a 94,000-square-foot, six-story building and a 360-space parking structure. Hammes Co. would share the building with other tenants.

The building’s proposed architecture — which includes stone columns, a dome and other “classical” features — has elicited criticism from some residents and at least one city official.

At a Milwaukee Plan Commission meeting earlier this month, commission member Whitney Gould argued that the proposed design was reminiscent of buildings that might not have savory historical associations. Gould said the renderings she has seen bring to mind Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, a plantation that she contended was built using slave labor and that in many ways remains a symbolic of rigid hierarchies.

The Plan Commission ultimately recommended the proposal be approved by the city.

On Monday, Kovac noted the public had turned to both social media and letters to express concerns about the project.

Even so, “I don’t think that the city should be regulating the style,” he said.

Kovac argued that city officials should be devoting their energy and attention to other matters. They, for instance, should be trying to ensure that the materials that go into the project are of a high quality.

Eric Antmann, principal of Charlottesville, Va.-based Dalgliesh Gilpin Paxton Architects, the lead architect on the Hammes Co. development, said the proposed design takes inspiration from “American history” and buildings dating to the 18th and 19th centuries.

“That style was inspired by what was happening in the republic, in the United States of America, which … made it a little bit different than from what was happening in Europe or elsewhere in the world,” he said.

Antmann added that the building is meant to remind people of the values undergirding the United States.

“That type of architecture is based on principles of democratic and republican government, justice, rule of law, liberty, due process, and all those principles and ideas are inherently American,” he said. “So that’s the interest here.”

Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects is also working with Dalgliesh Gilpin Paxton on the building’s design.

The $27 million headquarters structure is only the first of two building projects that Hammes Co. has planned for the 1.55-acre site. The size and cost of the second phase has not yet been determined. Antmann said the building could end up anywhere between five and eight stories tall.

Before any proposal could move forward, it would first need the Common Council’s approval.

Westlawn development plans approved

The committee also approved zoning changes that would lead to construction of as many as 708 residential dwellings at the Westlawn housing development.

Officials with the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee are building the mixed-income neighborhood south of West Silver Spring Drive between North 60th and North 68th streets. The 75-acre area will include retail space, as well as apartments, townhouses and single-family houses.

The zoning changes would allow for another 165 units to be added to Westlawn’s eastern section, which falls between North 60th and North 64th streets. As many as 585 units, meanwhile, would be built west of North 64th Street. These would replace and add to the 394 units now in that area.

The redevelopment efforts will offer more than $200 million worth of contracting opportunities, according to the Housing Authority.

About Alex Zank, [email protected]

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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