City Hall sorts out Couture contract quarrel, developer aims for early April groundbreaking

City attorney initially refused to sign latest change to agreement

View from N Lincoln Memorial Drive and E Michigan St. Rendering: Rinka
Rendering of The Couture from North Lincoln Memorial Drive and East Michigan Street.

Last updated on March 23rd, 2021 at 01:39 pm

With latest Couture holdup at City Hall all but resolved, the developer of the long-anticipated luxury apartment tower says he’s aiming for an early April groundbreaking.

The Couture is a $188 million, 44-story building proposed near the downtown Milwaukee lakefront at 909 E. Michigan St. (southwest of Michigan Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive). It is being developed by Milwaukee-based Barrett Lo Visionary Development.

The project has encountered numerous problems and delays over the years, and the latest emerged earlier this week when City Attorney Tearman Spencer revealed he would not sign the latest changes to a development agreement between the developer and city. The agreement exists because the city is providing financial assistance to related infrastructure work.

The new agreement holds Barrett Lo responsible for repaying up to $1.4 million in federal grant money that the city may be forced to pay back if construction deadlines are missed on a related streetcar line extension. It also stipulates the developer will donate $100,000 to a city anti-displacement fund.

Spencer took issue with the anti-displacement fund donation, specifically the way it was added into the contract.

The Common Council met briefly this morning to approve a compromise. Now, the developer’s $100,000 contribution will be placed in escrow pending review of a special counsel. Depending on the findings of the counsel, the donation would either be forwarded to the fund or returned to the developer.

Spencer indicated he would sign the latest compromise.

“I believe I have made very clear my procedural and ethical concerns about the late inclusion of requiring the Couture developer to make a 100,000 donation to the Milwaukee development fund. I have not changed those concerns in any way,” Spencer said in a statement. “However, in light of impending financial deadlines which if missed will greatly add to the cost to the project, the city’s best interests require us to move forward or lose the opportunity to avoid these unacceptable costs.”

A spokesman for Mayor Tom Barrett said the mayor would do the same today. Barrett also initially refused to sign the agreement.

Milwaukee City Clerk Jim Owczarski confirmed the resolution has all needed signatures in a tweet.

Rick Barrett, chief executive officer of Barrett Lo, applauded the quick compromise by city leaders.

“We applaud city leadership in reaching a solution that enables The Couture to advance,” he said in a statement. “In particular, we’d like to thank Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, (Department of City Development) Commissioner (Lafayette) Crump and Alderman (Robert) Bauman for their tireless work and leadership in crafting this resolution, and the entire Common Council and city attorney for their support in moving it forward. With this action and prompt signatures by city officials, we will be able to move towards an early April closing and start of construction.”

Read the March 8 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee here:

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Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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