Building a taller skyline

If you have a photograph of the downtown Milwaukee skyline hanging on your office wall, that picture will be vastly outdated in a couple of years. Once construction of the 33-story Kilbourn Tower and the 35-story University Club Tower is complete, the city’s skyline will have a dramatically different look, especially from the lakefront. The side-by-side condominium towers will be built southwest of Kilbourn and Prospect avenues.

Construction of the 385-foot tall Kilbourn Tower is expected to be completed in the spring of 2005, and the 445-foot tall University Club tower is expected to be completed in the spring of 2006.

With a combined value of about $150 million, the twin tours will be the tallest buildings constructed in Milwaukee since 100 East Wisconsin Ave., the Milwaukee Center, 1000 North Water St. and a Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. office building were built downtown in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Construction on Kilbourn Tower began one year ago, and the groundbreaking for University Club Tower is scheduled for Sept. 27.

The Kilbourn Tower will top off by the end of the year, according to Richard Glaisner, managing partner of sales and marketing for Kilbourn Tower. The structure is already more than 11 stories tall, and some of its future residents have toured the building to see what the views from their condo will be like, he said.

"They’re spectacular," Glaisner said.

For years, the downtown Milwaukee skyline has looked small compared with many other similar-sized cities in the United States. The addition of the two condo towers will not only enhance Milwaukee’s skyline but also will improve the Milwaukee’s image, reinforcing it as a big-time city, according to many city boosters.

"I think it is a plus, yes," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. "I think they’re both going to add to the skyline. I view both buildings as an asset to the community."

"Well-designed, tall buildings suggest wealth and interest in a city," said Bob Greenstreet, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning. Greenstreet also is Barrett’s appointment as city planner/architect.

"It’s a sign of prosperity," Greenstreet said. "It’s a sign of value for the city."

The towers are attracting wealthy residents.

The $80 million University Club Tower will have 56 condominiums priced between $1.1 million and $2.5 million. So far, contracts have been signed, or are nearly signed, for 38 of the units, said Phillip Aiello, development associate for Mandel Group.

The tower is being developed by University Club Tower LLC, a partnership of Barry Mandel, president of Mandel Group; Blaine Rieke, former chairman of Firstar Trust; Chris Smocke, president of Smocke and Associates; and Peter Mahler, president of Mahler Enterprises.

The University Club Tower’s architect is Skidmore, Owings and Merrill of Chicago, and the general contractor is J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc. of Milwaukee.

The $70 million Kilbourn Tower will have 74 condominiums priced between $750,000 and more than $2.65 million. So far, 46 of the Kilbourn Tower condos have been sold, including the 7,800 square-foot penthouse on the top level. Kilbourn Tower officials said the person who has purchased the penthouse has asked not to be identified by the media.

Fiduciary Real Estate Development Inc. is developing Kilbourn Tower. LA Dallman Architects Inc. of Milwaukee and Soloman Cordwell Buenz & Associates of Chicago designed the building. The general contractor is M.A. Mortenson Co. of Minneapolis.

Most of the tenants of the two towers will be affluent, middle-aged empty-nesters who want an upscale urban setting.

The city’s skyline provides an intangible affect on what people think about Milwaukee as a place to live, visit and do business in, city boosters say. An enhanced skyline could help shake Milwaukee’s rust belt image and signal that the city is growing and attractive to talented young professionals.

"It’s a big plus," said Dean Amhaus, president of the Spirit of Milwaukee. "It sends a message that there is vibrancy, an energy there that is very positive."

"Buildings say vibrancy, buildings say action," said Doug Neilson, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It shows things are happening. This is a happening place, and a skyline shows that."

Like a professional sports team, a prominent skyline sends a message to visitors that the city is "big league," Amhaus said.

"We’re part of that pack (of large cities)," he said. "Cities should have skylines."

Barrett said both the University Club Tower and the Kilbourn Tower will join other buildings such as the Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, the U.S. Bank building, the 875 E. Wisconsin Avenue building and the Wisconsin Gas building as major downtown Milwaukee landmarks.

"We have several signature buildings," Barrett said. "I think these will be two people notice as they come into town."

Greenstreet said the towers also will show developers that major development projects can succeed in downtown Milwaukee. A correlation exists between tall buildings, land value and the perceived value of the city, he said.

"Buildings are a very powerful way of signaling prosperity and confidence in the future," Greenstreet said. "It sends a message that people are interested in our city and that things are going in the right direction."

The two towers also will impress tourists who have visited the city recently and return a few years later after the towers have been built, Amhaus said. The towers will send a signal to those visitors that the city’s economy is strong and growing, he said.

"(It shows) there’s something going on in that city," Amhaus said. "There is activity and energy going on downtown that is making that happen."

The two towers will be only 10 feet apart at the base and up to 25 feet apart above the second floor, said Roseann St. Aubin, spokeswoman for the Milwaukee Department of City Development. Fiduciary objected to the proximity of the University Club Tower to its building. However, city officials still approved the University Club Tower location.

"They have appropriate setbacks," she said. "We don’t really monitor the views people have. We do take note of the setbacks and how much is appropriate."

Barrett said having the two buildings built so close to each other is an asset, because that will reduce the impact on views from existing buildings nearby.

The University Club Tower will limit the views for residents living on the south side of Kilbourn Tower, Glaisner said. The University Club Tower’s planned location has made it harder to sell units on that side of Kilbourn Tower, he said.

"At the end of the day, we had hoped they would have positioned their building in another way so our owners on the south side would get more of a southeast view than they have," Glaisner said.

However, Glaisner said, the two-buildings can co-exist.

"We’re both out selling the same thing," he said. "We’re selling the lifestyle downtown and the amenities that go with it. There’s no doubt the buildings share the best location in the city."

Fiduciary filed a grievance with the city about the location of the University Club Tower.

"We have an issue with the city," Glaisner said. "I really can’t get into it."

The representatives for both the Kilbourn Tower and University Club Tower projects have met to coordinate construction schedules and safety precautions.

"There are some necessary safety precautions you have to take to accommodate the two buildings going up so close together," Aiello said.

In other large cities, it is not uncommon for high-rise buildings to be located so close to each other, Greenstreet said.

"I think they will be OK, because they are both designed very well," he said. "The more high-quality development there is, the better it is for the city."

The two buildings will bolster the city’s tax base, provide more affluent residents to support downtown businesses and will attract more service businesses downtown, Greenstreet said.

"Everybody wins," he said.

University Club Tower

Height: 445 feet

Stories: 35

Cost to build: $80 million

Residential units: 56

Price range: $1.1 million to $2.5 million

Kilbourn Tower

Height: 385 feet

Stories: 33

Cost to build: $70 million

Residential units: 74

price range: $750,000 to over $2.65 million

Sign up for the BizTimes email newsletter

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display