Barrett Lo spreads its wings

Will break ground on three projects in 2017

The Couture

In 2007, a relatively unknown Milwaukee developer proposed a 120-room hotel, 80 condos and street-level retail in a 30-story building on the west side of downtown, an area lacking substantial development at the time.

By the time the shovels broke ground on The Moderne in 2011, the economy had crashed, the project was reconfigured into 203 apartments and 14 condos, and Rick Barrett’s name was no longer unfamiliar.


By the end of 2017, Barrett, owner of Milwaukee-based Barrett Lo Visionary Development, expects to have broken ground on three more projects: phase two of Emerald Row, a luxury apartment complex at the Drexel Town Square development in Oak Creek that will include 657 units when it is complete; The Couture, a $122 million, 44-story luxury apartment building at the southwest corner of North Lincoln Memorial Drive and East Michigan Street, near the lakefront in downtown Milwaukee; and Blanc Chicago, his first project outside of the Milwaukee area.

Blanc, a 12-story, 31-unit condo building with ground floor retail, will be located in Chicago’s River North neighborhood.

Barrett purchased the 0.35-acre site from Dean Carson, the son of the founder of famed Chicago ribs restaurant Carson’s, in July 2011 for $4.6 million. Carson’s will be located on the ground floor. Carson’s is a tenant of The Moderne, as well.

Barrett admits his desire to build in Chicago comes from having a chip on his shoulder.

“It’s always been Chicago developers coming to Milwaukee to develop here,” he said. “I don’t know of a single project where a Milwaukee developer and a Milwaukee architect go to Chicago, buy land, and design and build a project. I’m really proud of my team and I want to say we went to one of the top three markets in the U.S. and succeeded in that marketplace.”


The architect Barrett will be bringing with him is Matt Rinka, principal of Milwaukee-based Rinka Chung Architecture Inc., who has done the design work for all of Barrett’s projects since The Moderne. The two met in 2006, just as Rinka was leaving Milwaukee architecture firm Kahler Slater to start his own business.

Rinka said he and Barrett immediately fed off each other’s creativity and to this day, continue to challenge each other.

“After the first few meetings with Rick and Tan (Lo, Barrett’s business partner), I was very excited,” Rinka said. “I started my own business because I wanted to do projects that were impactful and inspiring. Rick thinks big. I felt like we could have a pretty special relationship.”

Rinka, whose firm has done design work for numerous projects in the Milwaukee area, said Blanc Chicago will be small by Chicago standards, but its design will be highly detailed and very sophisticated.

“There will be a sense of elegance that we want every building we work on to have,” Rinka said. “Milwaukeeans are so humble, they tend to design what people expect. Once in a while, you get projects that surprise people. We want to be part of that. A lot of people said The Moderne and The Couture were too international looking for the City of Milwaukee. Well, that’s the whole point.”

A rendering of Blanc Chicago.
A rendering of Blanc Chicago.

Originally, Barrett planned to break ground on Blanc Chicago this year, but once The Couture finally began moving forward and with the continued success of Emerald Row – the project has been so successful, Barrett recently purchased seven more acres of land in Oak Creek to build a third phase  – he decided to put it on hold until next year.

Barrett has 12 people on his team, which is double his staff size just two years ago. Within the next five years, he would like to double in size again. But for now, Barrett says he has to slow down when need be.

“I turn down projects regularly because we just don’t have any more bandwidth,” Barrett said. “With what we have now, and a couple of behind the scenes sizable projects, it’s exciting. We just have to keep rocking and rolling.”

In addition to Chicago, Barrett and Rinka are considering projects in Minneapolis and Nashville, but said Milwaukee will always be their headquarters and the most important place to do business.

In August, Barrett finally completed the purchase of the Downtown Transit Center from Milwaukee County and began work on The Couture project. He said deconstruction of the 24-year-old transit center will take about six months.

In August, Barrett purchased the Downtown Transit Center from Milwaukee County and began work on The Couture.
In August, Barrett purchased the Downtown Transit Center from Milwaukee County and began work on The Couture.

The Couture will begin rising from the ground in the second or third quarter of 2017, he said.  The project will have 302 apartments, about 50,000 square feet of retail space, public parking, transit connections and numerous public amenities, including a connection to the Lakefront Gateway Plaza.
The project started in 2012 and was delayed by several hurdles, including threats of litigation by a parks advocacy group.

Barrett and Rinka began The Couture project fresh off the five-year-long Moderne project, but both men said they never considered walking away.

“My wife equates it to having a baby, and we’re on our fifth,” Barrett said. “We’re building a dominant 44-story tower that will be the tallest residential building in the state. It’s going to take some time. I have to look at it that way or I go crazy. I have the patience of a stepped on rattlesnake.”

Since first announcing the Moderne project in 2007, Barrett’s public profile has changed, and so has the Park East corridor.

Ninety-eight percent of the corridor’s land is for sale or being developed, thanks in large part to Barrett and the Milwaukee Bucks, who are building a $524 million arena and additional development there.

Barrett, who started his development career building condos along the Beerline corridor, said he isn’t done yet in the Park East neighborhood.

“I have a real interest in building another project there,” he said. “The Moderne has been a very, very good project for us. I believe in the area west of downtown Milwaukee, I believe in the west of the river concept and I am very excited about what’s to come for Milwaukee.”

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