BMO makes big commitment to Milwaukee


BMO Harris rendering west view.

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 04:59 pm

op-ed-rendering-of-bmo-harris-buildingMarshall & Ilsley Corp. was one of Wisconsin’s most iconic companies. Based in downtown Milwaukee, the parent company of M&I Bank was founded in 1847 and grew to become the largest bank based in the state.

But M&I suffered heavy losses during the Great Recession, and changes had to be made.

Toronto-based BMO Financial Group, the parent company of Harris Bank, acquired Marshall & Ilsley Corp. in 2011. M&I was combined with Harris Bank to form BMO Harris Bank, based in Chicago.

The loss of yet another major corporate headquarters was seen as a massive blow to Milwaukee. With BMO Harris based in Chicago, many wondered what the company’s commitment would be to Milwaukee. Would the company really need to keep an office here at the old M&I headquarters in downtown Milwaukee?

After M&I was acquired, many of the bank’s competitors saw an opportunity to grab market share, and had some success doing so.

Still, BMO showed that despite its Chicago base it was, in fact, still committed to Milwaukee. The firm continued to provide major support to civic institutions, most noticeably by its sponsorship of the BMO Harris Bradley Center and the BMO Harris Pavilion at the Summerfest grounds.

And now, the company is making its most significant statement that it is committed to Milwaukee for the long haul. BMO Harris recently unveiled plans for a new 25-story office tower in downtown Milwaukee. The bank will move 700 employees from the former M&I Bank headquarters building downtown, built in 1967, and 175 employees from the Milwaukee Center to its new building. The project is a $137 million investment, which speaks volumes about how important Milwaukee and Wisconsin remain to the company.

“Milwaukee represents a critically important market for us,” said David Casper, president and chief executive officer of BMO Harris Bank.

In addition, the project creates more construction jobs and will immediately add to the city and county property tax base because no TIF subsidy is being sought. That’s great news for taxpayers.

The new building, to be called the BMO Harris Financial Center at Market Square, is just the latest of numerous big development projects occurring in downtown Milwaukee and represents a huge vote of confidence in the future of downtown. Similar to Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.’s decision to build a new $450 million, 32-story office tower at its downtown headquarters, a major investment downtown by a large corporation gives others the confidence to invest in downtown Milwaukee.

Hopefully that confidence continues to fuel the development boom downtown and helps attract more apartments, hotels, restaurants and retail.

“This is a tremendous day for our city,” said Rocky Marcoux, commissioner for the Department of City Development. “Not only to have this tremendous office building built, but a recommitment to Milwaukee and this great city.”

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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