Northwestern Mutual will launch a $500 million investment to renovate its 19-story North Office Building in Milwaukee’s downtown, the company announced on Thursday. The company plans to relocate nearly 2,000 employees for a period up to five years from its Franklin location.
The company will renovate the North Office building’s interior and exterior with a glass façade like the neighboring 32-story tower on the city’s lakefront. The 540,000-square-foot building at 818 E. Mason St. was built in 1990 and is one of four office buildings at Northwestern’s headquarters campus.
Northwestern Mutual President and CEO John Schlifske said at the meeting the company will move employees out of the North Office in July to start deconstruction of the older building. Renovations of the inside and outside will be complete in 2026 and employees will move back into the office in 2027, he added.
Renderings show the office transformed into the same glass façade as the existing Tower and Commons and plans include new connectors between structures. The project includes a pedestrian plaza on North Cass Street, shutting down Cass Street between Mason Street and East Wells Street.
The company announced New Haven, Connecticut-based Packard Chilton and Houston-based Kendall/Heaton Associates will be the lead design firms for the North Office project. When the overhaul is complete, the company will have up to 9,000 employees working in downtown Milwaukee.
The city and Northwestern Mutual are working together through a $40 million tax increment financing district, Mayor Cavalier Johnson said at the meeting. “When the improvements happen, it’ll create some additional increment and allow for the city to rebate Northwestern Mutual for the risk that they’ve taken,” he said.
Because of the partnership, Northwestern Mutual will have construction hiring goals for 40% of workers of underemployed and unemployed residents through the city’s Residence Preference Program, Mayor Cavalier Johnson said.
The company “exceeded expectations” with hiring goals for Milwaukee residents and small business enterprises to provide construction and consultation work for the Tower and Commons between 2014 and 2017, Johnson added.
Around 72% of the company’s workforce assigned to the campus works in the office on any given day, Schlifske said. Before the pandemic, the number was closer to 85%, he added.
“We want people to want to come to work, so we’re creating an environment where they want to (come to the office),” he said. “Once they understand how beautiful this campus is and the benefits of being at work, we see more people coming.”
For the Franklin location, all of the employees assigned there will be moved to the North Office in around three years, Schlifske said. The Franklin property will be turned into investment real estate and managed by Northwestern Mutual.
The company announced plans for the 32-story, 1.1 million square-foot Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons in 2012. Crews broke ground in 2014 and completed the behemoth in 2017. The project gathered 2,600 workers, including around 1,200 Milwaukee-area workers who were previously unemployed or underemployed.
Gilbane Building Co. and C.G. Schmidt oversaw construction of the Tower and Commons project.
Northwestern Mutual isn’t the only big-name company increasing its presence in downtown Milwaukee: Corporations like Fiserv and Milwaukee Tool have moved in or made plans to move in over the last couple of years.