Alderman says Johnson Controls is planning 50-story HQ downtown

Johnson Controls Inc. is working on plans for a 50-story, 1.2 million-square-foot corporate headquarters office building that would be built near the lakefront in downtown Milwaukee, according to Ald. Robert Bauman, who represents the downtown area.

“That’s what I’ve heard from people at (the Department of City Development) and the mayor’s office,” Bauman said. “They want to build the biggest building in the state.”

By comparison, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. is building a 32-story, 1.1 million-square-foot office building at its downtown Milwaukee corporate headquarters campus. The U.S. Bank Center at 777 E. Wisconsin Ave. is 42 stories tall with 1.07 million square feet of space, according to city records.

Bauman estimates the proposed Johnson Controls corporate headquarters building would house about 2,000 to 3,000 employees. The building will house all of the company’s top executives and corporate office staff, he said.

“This is maybe one of the biggest deals ever for downtown,” Bauman said.

Ald. Nik Kovac, on the floor of the Common Council today, referred to the project as the, “Johnson Controls world headquarters consolidation.”

The building would be located southwest of the intersection of East Clybourn Street and North Lincoln Memorial Drive, where freeway ramps will be relocated, after the completion of the Hoan Bridge redecking project, to create a development site. City officials had hoped to lure a major corporate headquarters to the site.

“(Johnson Controls would be) the perfect candidate,” Bauman said.

A spokesman for Glendale-based Johnson Controls last week acknowledged that the company is working on plans for a major office development in the Milwaukee area, but declined to provide any details. The spokesman also said that the fate of the proposed downtown streetcar project would be a factor in the company’s decision making process.

“Johnson Controls is exploring a full range of options to address our expanding facilities needs in the area to support future growth,” Johnson Controls spokesman Fraser Engerman said. “These include options within Milwaukee, the surrounding communities and potentially elsewhere. These efforts are focused on growth and would not entail displacing our current local workforce. As we are evaluating options, a key consideration is a vibrant community with convenient transportation and easy access to our facilities. As a result we also have a keen interest in the downtown streetcar project and are monitoring that situation closely.”

Engerman said today that he has nothing to add to the statement that he made last week.

A majority of the Common Council voted today to support the controversial downtown streetcar project, but opponents used a parliamentary procedure maneuver to delay the final vote until Feb. 10. Opponents of the streetcar are circulating petitions in an attempt to force a public referendum vote on the project.

Johnson Controls CEO Alex Molinaroli was one of nine prominent Milwaukee business and civic leaders who signed a letter Tuesday to Mayor Tom Barrett and the Common Council in support of the streetcar.

Bauman, a strong supporter of the downtown streetcar project, said he thinks the Johnson Controls headquarters project near the lakefront could proceed without the streetcar, but he said the streetcar would make the site more attractive to the company and would improve the design of the building.

“Does (the streetcar) enhance the viability of that location? You bet it does,” Bauman said.

Bauman said he assumes that Johnson Controls would maintain a presence in Glendale. The company also has existing operations in downtown Milwaukee and last year leased a 143,000-square-foot office space in West Allis.

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