Common Council panel approves NML TIF plan

The Milwaukee Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development (ZND) Committee this morning unanimously approved $54 million in tax incremental financing (TIF) for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.’s $350 to $400 million office tower project at its downtown Milwaukee headquarters campus.

Ald. James Bohl, Ald. Willie Wade, Ald. Michael Murphy, Ald. Robert Bauman and Ald. Terry Witkowski all voted to approve the TIF plan for the project. Bohl, the committee chairman, called the project a “grand slam homerun” and a “once in a generation opportunity for the city.”

The TIF is developer financed, which means the cost to construct the building will be paid by Northwestern Mutual and the TIF portion will be reimbursed to the company as it pays property taxes.

Aldermen also approved city plans to use an additional $18 million in TIF revenues generated by taxes from the new Northwestern Mutual building for improvements to the lakefront gateway area including: the extension of Lincoln Memorial Drive into the Third Ward, improvements and the extension of Clybourn Street to the lakefront, repaving Cass Street (from Wisconsin Avenue to Michigan Street), repaving Michigan Street (from Van Buren Street to Harbor Drive), repaving Harbor Drive (from Clybourn Street to Chicago Street) and pedestrian improvements to better connect the downtown to the lakefront.

The full Common Council is expected to review the TIF plans for the project on Tuesday, April 30. 

The new Northwestern Mutual building will have 1,114,000 square feet of total space. That would make it the largest “single building under roof” in the state of Wisconsin, said Richard “Rocky” Marcoux, commissioner for the Department of City Development.

“This is one of the most significant real estate developments in the history of the city of Milwaukee,” Marcoux said to the ZND Committee this morning.

When the project was first announced in December, Northwestern Mutual said it planned to build an 840,000-square-foot building. But the company later determined it needed about 300,000 square feet of additional space for the building’s common area base, which will be used for training, meetings, an employee cafeteria and gathering space available to the public.

The new building will replace an existing 16-story, 452,000-square-foot building on the Northwestern Mutual campus. The new building will provide space for 1,100 employees that currently work in the existing building and space for an additional 1,900 employees that Northwestern Mutual says it plans to add by 2030.

Based on preliminary plans for the building, it will be 33 stories, about 550 feet, tall, said Steve Radke, vice president of governmental relations for Northwestern Mutual. That means the building would be roughly the same height as the 37-story 100 East Wisconsin Ave. building in downtown Milwaukee, which is the second tallest building in the state. The tallest building in the state is the 42-story, 601-foot tall U.S. Bank Center at 777 E. Wisconsin Ave. in downtown Milwaukee.

A rendering for the new Northwestern Mutual building will not be released until later this year. However, the company showed a massing model to the ZND Committee Tuesday that shows an L-shaped building with a block-long four-story common area base along the south side of Mason Street and the 33-story office tower at the far east end of the Northwestern Mutual campus along North Prospect Avenue.

Demolition of the existing building is expected to begin by the end of the year. Construction of the new building is expected to begin in the fall of 2014 and the project is expected to be complete by the fourth quarter of 2017.

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