Common Council gives final approval to Couture development agreement changes

Developer says construction to commence in coming weeks

View from N Lincoln Memorial Drive and E Michigan St. Rendering: Rinka
View from N Lincoln Memorial Drive and E Michigan St. Rendering: Rinka

Last updated on March 4th, 2021 at 12:12 pm

The Milwaukee Common Council today approved the latest changes to the Couture development agreement, likely clearing the way for the developer to close on financing for the project and begin building the $188 million luxury apartment tower.

Milwaukee-based Barrett-Lo Visionary Development has long planned to build the 44-story, 322-unit tower at 909 E. Michigan St., near the downtown Milwaukee lakefront. The latest change to its development agreement may have represented the last obstacle between the developer and closing on project financing.

The new agreement places responsibility on Barrett-Lo for up to $1.4 million in federal grant money that the city might have to repay if any construction deadlines are missed on the transit component of the Couture. It also requires Barrett-Lo principals Rick Barrett and Tan Lo donate $100,000 to the city’s anti-displacement fund.

Common Council members unanimously approved the changes on Tuesday.

“We are grateful for the support of the Common Council as we work to advance this transformational project for Milwaukee,” Barrett, founder and chief executive of Barrett-Lo, said in a statement following the council decision.

Barrett said he expects to break ground on the project “in the coming weeks.” A spokesperson on behalf of Barrett-Lo did not provide more details.

The $1.4 million in unspent federal grant money comes from a larger $14.2 million Federal Transit Administration grant given to the city years ago for construction of The Hop streetcar’s lakefront line.

The line is to run through the Couture’s public transit center. The city has spent most of the federal grant money, placing streetcar rails up to the point of the Couture site.

City leaders worried about being on the hook to repay some or all of the grant money if the project missed any construction deadlines that further delayed operation of the lakefront line.

According to the development agreement, the transit concourse is to be in operation by mid-2022. The Couture overall is supposed to finish by Aug. 1, 2023.

Administered by MKE United, the anti-displacement fund provides property tax relief to homeowners residing in certain city neighborhoods who are experiencing rising taxes due to nearby development.

“We are also proud to support the MKE United Anti-Displacement Fund — an important effort that is promoting community stability and greater equity in near-downtown neighborhoods,” Barrett said. “We recognize that developments, like The Couture, benefit from vibrant and healthy near-downtown neighborhoods.

“At closing, we will fulfill our commitment to make a $100,000 contribution to that fund, making a difference in these neighborhoods and in the lives of families throughout the City.”

Barrett-Lo in November secured a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on its $103.5 million mortgage, which is The Couture’s primary source of financing.

That guarantee put the project on track for an early 2021 groundbreaking. It was to start by Feb. 1, but the last-minute negotiations over liability of the grant funding pushed back the financing closing date.

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Alex Zank
Alex Zank covers commercial and residential real estate for BizTimes. Alex previously worked for Farm Equipment magazine and also covered statewide construction news at The Daily Reporter. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism, political science and economics. Having grown up in rural western Wisconsin, Alex loves all things outdoors, including camping, hiking, four-wheeling and hunting.

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