Crews formally broke ground on Tuesday on the Couture high-rise project, a 44-story tower that will eventually overlook Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee after being in the works for nearly a decade.
The ceremony came after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced last week that it had put the finishing touches on a $104.7 million construction loan and guarantee for the $188 million project — the largest deal of its kind for the agency’s Midwest region since 2000.
Rick Barrett, of Barrett Lo Visionary Development, noted work on the Couture is getting underway 50 years after construction began on the adjacent U.S. Bank Tower, still the tallest building in the state. The Couture, which will be the tallest residential tower, is expected to stand 516 feet high when complete, about 100 feet shy of the U.S. Bank tower. Barrett said he felt “somewhat euphoric” as he watched crews begin excavation work at the site on Tuesday.
“A high-rise in Milwaukee, it took 50 years in the making since the last one,” he said. “There are so many things that need to come together to make it work.”
Barrett first proposed the Couture high-rise in 2012 only to see the project experience many delays over the years. Among the biggest obstacles was a two-year legal dispute over the proper use of land near Milwaukee’s lakefront. Barrett Lo also missed a deadline in 2019 for applying for a HUD loan.
Barrett hired the financial services firm Baird to find additional investors for the project and reapplied for support from HUD. Federal officials responded in November with the announcement that they had extended a loan guarantee for the project, signaling it was on the verge of beginning.
Work at the Couture site, near where Lincoln Memorial Drive meets East Michigan Avenue, will begin with the removal of a concrete slab and the replacement of sewer systems on the property’s west side, said Eric Wynn, general manager at lead contractor J.H. Findoff. Super Excavators, a subcontractor on the project, will then need at least six months to remove enough soil at the site to make space for a two-story underground parking garage. About 15 trucks will be used every day to haul material.
“I’ve been telling most people, it’s probably going to be about a year before we get to street level,” Wynn said.
Barrett Lo and J.H. Findorff joined forces in 2017 to demolish a county-owned bus center once operated at the site and, later that year, worked with Milwaukee city officials to extend sewer service to the property. Crews also rebuilt a wall between the Couture site and the next-door 833 East tower, designed needed sewer systems and tested underlying soil.
After the construction of the tower itself begins next year, crews will have to complete a first-story transit terminal to serve Milwaukee’s streetcar, the Hop, by June 30, 2022. The city of Milwaukee is contributing nearly $20 million in incentives to that project, which will also include infrastructure for a rapid transit line running to Wauwatosa.
Wynn said Findorff is still in the early stages of enlisting subcontractors for the project. He said he and his colleagues have brought on Prism Technical Management to help with the hiring requirements that must be met as a result of the Couture receiving help from the city and Milwaukee County.
Wynn said construction crews have been preparing for this work for months, ever since Barrett Lo received official approval of its financing.
“The whole project is on a tight deadline. Everyone’s been waiting on this for so long,” he said. “We’re anxious to get going, and were anxious to make as much progress as we can, as fast as we can.”Follow @natebeck9