The anchor tenants of the new BMO Tower office building in downtown Milwaukee are using their space with reduced employee counts as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Jud Snyder, senior executive for southeastern Wisconsin for BMO Harris Bank, said the company currently only has about 15% of its 600 downtown Milwaukee office staff coming in to the office on any given day.
Meanwhile, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, another tenant at BMO Tower, has at least 40% of its downtown office employees coming into work daily, according to managing partner David Krutz.
These details and more were revealed during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday morning, recognizing the recent completion of the BMO Tower's construction. The 25-story glass office tower, located at 790 N. Water St., opened to tenants in April. However, the pandemic delayed formal celebrations until September.
Snyder said BMO's office officially opened around late May or early June. Since then, there has been a slow uptick in the number of employees working in the office.
He said about 75-100 people come in daily, with different people coming in on any given day. This allows plenty of space for employees to distance themselves from each other. The company occupies floors 11, 14-16 and a portion of floor 17.
Those coming in are "primarily the ones who have customer-facing responsibilities that they need to be in the office for," Snyder said. This includes those working in cash management and commercial banking roles.
A third party handled the moving of employees' belongings to the new space. Snyder said the employees themselves were initially going to move their things, but the plans changed due to the pandemic.
Michael Best started relocating its Milwaukee office when the BMO Tower opened in the spring, though its employees continued working remotely as they had been during the outbreak. A sizable contingent of workers are now regularly in the office.
"We have over 40% of our people coming in each day in a socially distant, responsible way, but really using the space from day one," Krutz said. He credited the office's design and layout in allowing that many employees to work there safely.
Snyder said the COVID-19 outbreak has shown many employees can productively work from home. This could lead to a permanent company policy that allows more flexibility in where employees are working. Snyder said such a policy would also help the company maintain appropriate social distancing standards in the office environment.
"Many of our younger staff have asked for this for so long, the ability to work remote when they wanted to and come in when they wanted to, and I think this is proving we could do it," he said. "And so, I think some of the distancing and less density may work out for itself as we empower our employees to work whenever they want."
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BMO Tower was developed by Milwaukee-based Irgens Partners LLC. The developer led the project through a number of challenges. The final weeks of work took place through during the pandemic. Months before that, the construction schedule was pushed back by months after the basement flooded. Irgens also switched general contractors on the project in January.
Now that it's complete and ready for more office and retail tenants, Irgens has been emphasizing BMO Tower building features such as its modern HVAC systems, secure parking and touchless elevators.
Mark Irgens, chief executive officer and manager of Irgens Partners, said his firm plans to announce additional BMO Tower occupiers "in short order." The building is so far about 55% leased. Other office tenants include Heartland Advisors Inc. and Andrus Intellectual Property Law LLP. Retail tenants include BMO's retail bank branch and Fiddleheads Coffee Roasters.
"Like everything, the future landscape is unknown," Irgens said. "But what I do know, is that hard work, luck, great co-occupiers like BMO and a great, safe building, we will lease it."
Irgens also revealed the firm is working with local artist Mauricio Ramirez to paint a 30-foot-by-12-foot mural in the commons area.
Mayor Tom Barrett said BMO's investment in the new downtown office tower, which happens to be across the street from City Hall, was a smart one.
"I think it's a very smart financial decision, because I think we're going to see growth coming out of this region (and) city for decades to come," he said.