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Officials awaiting good news about Couture project

Milwaukee city officials said Wednesday that they’ll soon have some good news about the long-stalled Couture high-rise planned for a site overlooking the city’s lakefront.

The developer Rick Barrett for years has been planning a $122 million, 44-story tower at the corner of East Michigan Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive, but has struggled to secure financing for the project. The city is relying on the high-rise to complete a transit concourse for the lakefront loop of its streetcar line — and could face a federal penalty if it’s not completed soon.

During the city’s Public Works Committee meeting on Wednesday, Ald. Bob Bauman, the committee’s chair, said he’d like to see city staff draw up an alternative to Milwaukee’s plan to place a transit hub for the streetcar on the first floor of the Couture. Tracks for the city’s lakefront streetcar line are laid, but service can’t begin until the high-rise is finished.

“I have no idea if the Couture is going to get built or not,” Bauman said. “The concern I’ve had for two-and-a-half years is that we’ve tied the streetcar project to the completion of a private real estate development.”

Lori Lutzka, development projects manager with Milwaukee’s Department of City Development, said despite months of inaction, city officials would have good news about the development in late June or July. Public Works Director Jeff Polenske echoed that optimism.

The project, she said, could create 400,000 hours of work for workers who live in the city, a boon for the economy while Milwaukee recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would hate to give up when we’re this close to the finish line,” Lutzka said.

The Couture project has been hampered by a series of delays this past year. Barrett missed an initial deadline to file an application for a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last year, then missed the application’s final deadline in July. Barrett said he can file an accelerated application in the future.

City and county officials, meanwhile, could be faced with millions in penalties if the project isn’t finished soon. The city could lose 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.

Bauman said during the meeting he’s tired of waiting and would draw up a resolution to direct the city’s Department of Public Works to find an alternative route for the streetcar that doesn’t rely on the Couture — perhaps one that crosses Lincoln Memorial Drive and makes a loop at Discovery World.

“Separate the projects,” Bauman said. “I think it would be a preferred location. It does not require the public to cross that godawful street.”

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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