$1.6 million from NML may be used for Drexel interchange

When it built a corporate campus in Franklin, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. provided $1.6 million to the state Department of Transportation for area road improvements.
That money is now part of an evolving funding plan to build an interchange at Drexel Avenue and I-94 in Oak Creek. The cost of the interchange is estimated at $12.8 million.
“Northwestern Mutual did not commit to any new funds to support this project—the funds were provided through an agreement the company made with the DOT when it initially built a campus in Franklin several years ago,” Northwestern Mutual spokeswoman Jean Towell said. “This initiative should not be connected to any other current transit projects under consideration.”
The funding plan has not been finalized. However, the state has agreed to pay for half of the project and the $1.6 million in funds from Northwestern Mutual would also be used, said Oak Creek Mayor Dick Bolender.
This week Oak Creek officials approved plans to provide a total of $4.4 million for the area including $3.75 million to build the interchange, $500,000 for South 27th Street lighting and $150,000 for Drexel Avenue lighting and utility work. The Oak Creek funds will come from a tax incremental financing (TIF) district.
In addition to the interchange, the project also includes widening of Drexel Avenue to four lanes between South 13th Street and South 27th Street, Bolender said.
Franklin has not agreed to provide any funds for the interchange project. The city has committed to providing $500,000 for enhanced lighting in the South 27th Street corridor, said Franklin Mayor Tom Taylor.
It is unclear if the contributions of Oak Creek, Franklin and Northwestern Mutual are adequate to cover the local share for the Drexel interchange project.
“We’re still waiting on the locals to pull the pieces together,” said Reggie Newson, Department of Transportation operations director for the southeast region. “They’re still negotiating and we’ll see once we get more information from them.”
The DOT has set a May 1 deadline for local officials to put together a local funding package for the interchange project, Newson said.
If built the interchange would improve access to Northwestern Mutual’s Franklin campus, located on an 84-acre site northwest of Drexel Avenue and South 27th Street. About 1,700 people work in the 865,000-square-foot complex. The company’s long range plan for the Franklin campus is to expand it further to 1.2 million to 2 million square feet of space.
The company also owns 118 acres of vacant land on the east side of South 27th Street in Oak Creek, which is wants to develop with a mix of commercial and residential uses, Bolender said.
There is a large amount of vacant land in the area around the proposed Drexel Avenue interchange. The interchange would help attract more development to the area, including Northwestern Mutual’s Oak Creek land and the vacant former Delphi plant, which is located southwest of Howell and Drexel avenues in Oak Creek, Bolender said.
“(The interchange) is going to attract development,” he said. “It’s good for the whole region.”
However, Milwaukee Ald. Robert Bauman is upset that Northwestern Mutual is providing funds for the interchange. Northwestern Mutual’s corporate headquarters is in Bauman’s downtown Milwaukee district.
The Drexel Avenue interchange would hurt the city of Milwaukee by helping attract business to the southern suburbs instead, Bauman said.
“I feel bad that that’s how he feels in Milwaukee, that we in the suburbs are some type of enemy,” Bolender said. “I thought we were all in this thing together.”
Bauman said Northwestern Mutual should provide funds for a Milwaukee transportation project.
“It seems only fair that NML should also help pay the local share of a transportation infrastructure project in downtown Milwaukee such as the downtown streetcar circulator,” he said.
“Northwestern Mutual is a strong proponent of public transportation,” Towell said. “As a matter of fact, the company provides incentives to encourage its employees to use public transportation.”

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