Could Milwaukee’s long-delayed Couture project finally be moving forward?
According to a talk radio host, the project has the cash it needs to get out of the ground. The project’s developer, however, isn’t saying either way.
The $122 million, 44-story Couture tower has been planned for years for the southwest corner of East Michigan Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive. But it has suffered many setbacks. In July, the project’s developer abandoned the pursuit of an $80 million federal loan guarantee to finance the project. City and county officials, which are relying on the project to be a hub for rapid bus service and the city’s streetcar, could be on the hook for millions if the project doesn’t move forward.
In a Tuesday night tweet, WISN-AM host Mark Belling said the Couture has enough financing for work on it to get underway and that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett had been briefed on that news. He followed up with a report on Wednesday saying Barrett Lo Visionary Development had found the $31 million in private cash it needed after missing various financing deadlines.
“The $31 million package was secured and underwritten by Baird, which the developers brought in several months ago after years of missed deadlines and failures to complete financing,” Belling wrote.
But in a statement, the developer of the project, Rick Barrett, declined to confirm that financing was in place. Barrett Lo previously hired Baird to find investors for the project.
“We are hard at work to complete the last piece of financing to make this iconic, transformative building a reality,” Barrett said. “We continue to make good progress, but have nothing new to share at this time.”
The city also declined to confirm that the project had the cash to proceed. Jeff Fleming, a spokesman for the Department of City Development, said officials “remain optimistic that the Couture will line up its financing and move forward.”
Barrett Lo bought the Couture property from Milwaukee County in 2016 for $500,000 — at a steep discount from the market value. In 2017, Barrett Lo tore down a former bus center built with federal money in order to make way for the tower. Now Milwaukee County finds itself under a concerning deadline. If the Couture property has no mass-transit component by the end of next year, the county could be forced to repay a $6.7 million grant used to pay for the initial transit hub.
The Couture is also a planned connection point for an already built streetcar line that would run to the lakefront. The city is at risk of losing a $14.2 million Federal Transit Administration loan it received for the streetcar if the lakefront line isn’t up and running by the end of 2020, although city officials recently sought a deadline extension.
Barrett Lo’s struggles to secure financing for The Couture are well known. The developer missed a final deadline in late July for securing an $80 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Barrett Lo then said it was looking for more investors for the project and could submit a fast-tracked loan application in the future.Follow @natebeck9