The 141-unit apartment building proposed for the former Porters furniture store site
in downtown Racine will be a hybrid mass timber structure.
If built according to plan, it would be the third mass timber structure in southeastern Wisconsin and the first outside of the city of Milwaukee.
City officials and West Allis-based developer Cardinal Capital Management Inc.
announced the apartment project late last week. The seven-story building would include an underground parking level, 18,000 square feet of retail space and amenities like balconies with lake views, a first-floor lounge, green roof terrace and electric-vehicle charging stations.
In addition, its top five stories will be built with mass timber, atop a two-story concrete podium, said Jason Korb, principal architect of Korb + Associates Architects
. The Milwaukee-based firm is the project architect.
Mass timber is more widely used in other parts of the world, such as Europe. But it's gaining popularity
in the U.S., including in Wisconsin.
It differs from traditional lumber construction in that all its structural components are made of wood, including columns, beams and floor structures. Although these components can be covered by other building materials such as drywalls, projects like Ascent are designed to expose the timber beams, ceilings and floors.
In an interview, Korb and Cardinal Capital president Erich Schwenker said the decision to use mass timber on this project was driven by the city's desires for a sustainable building that also complemented the historic nature of the surrounding neighborhood.
"When that became clear to us they were very, very serious about building a sustainable building, we brought this to the table," Korb said. "As part of a sustainable agenda it's a very helpful construction type."
According to the project team, the project will use 62,200 cubic feet of wood products. U.S. and Canadian forests grow this much wood in five minutes. By using this wood, the project will avoid emitting an amount of carbon dioxide that's equivalent to keeping 398 cars off the road for a year.
Korb added the project is pursuing LEED certification.
There are aesthetic benefits through the building's design, such as the exposed timber ceilings in every bedroom and living room, Korb said.
"There's also something about the warmth it brings, it fits in so well," he said. "I'm confident in saying it was very important to the mayor and some of the officials in Racine that we do things respectful of what was already there. This kind of structure allows us to do that."
Shannon Powell, a spokesman for Mayor Cory Mason's office, said the mayor and others are supportive of the idea. City officials are negotiating with Cardinal Capital about providing financial assistance for the project.
"We are very excited about the mass timber," Powell said in an email. "It is a far more sustainable product and better for the climate to use. We always have an eye for sustainability in any city supported project, so this is a great fit for us."
Milwaukee-based Catalyst Construction is the general contractor. Both Korb + Associates and Catalyst have experience working on mass timber projects.
Korb said the intensive pre-planning work associated with mass timber projects is already underway. Virtual design and coordination meetings are occurring weekly.
And starting in June, the project team will bring on Canada-based CadMakers
to virtually "build" the building.
The virtual building process lets the team plan out all the penetrations in the mass timber material and ensure there are no conflicts in the building design, Korb said. This step is important because the mass timber material is prefabricated and shipped to the job site essentially ready for installation.
The project team is close to selecting the supplier of the mass timber material, Korb said. The team received bids from suppliers in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
Racine may soon join what is now a tiny club of communities where mass timber structures have been proposed or built.
Milwaukee has two mass timber projects, the recently completed Timber Lofts
in Walker's Point and the Ascent
apartment tower under construction downtown. Another mass timber tower is in the works called The Edison
. In Madison, The Edison developers have put forward plans for another mass timber building
Korb + Associates is working on the Ascent project. Catalyst built Timber Lofts, and is working on Ascent with Fond du Lac-based C.D. Smith Construction.
Assuming approvals are met and the project is financed, construction work could commence in August.