Construction work is underway at The Couture site in downtown Milwaukee

Crews have started demo work, vertical construction slated for 2022

The Couture project team members gather for a media event at the project site.
The Couture project team members gather for a media event at the project site.

Last updated on May 13th, 2021 at 01:11 pm

Construction of The Couture is finally underway, nearly 9 years after it was first proposed and 50 years after permits were pulled for downtown Milwaukee’s last 40-plus story building: The nearby U.S. Bank Center.

Developer Rick Barrett said he did some archival research at City Hall recently and uncovered that fact. Permits for the U.S. Bank building were pulled in April 1972, while The Couture contractors pulled permits in April 2021.

Crews under the supervision of general contractor, Madison-based J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., could be seen breaking apart concrete and unloading excavation equipment on Tuesday morning at The Couture site.

Media were invited to watch the more visible construction work commence (site prep work started last week), and get an update from the project team.

The Couture is a $188 million, 44-story tower that will be built at 909 E. Michigan St., first proposed by Barrett in 2012. It is to include 322 residential units, 50,000 square feet of retail space and a public transit center, among other things. Barrett’s firm, Barrett-Lo Visionary Development, is the project developer.

It marks another milestone for Barrett, who also developed the 30-story Moderne at 1141 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

“The Moderne is the largest residential tower west of the (Milwaukee) River,” Barrett said. “This (The Couture) will be the largest residential tower in the state.”

The 42-story, 601-foot tall U.S. Bank Center will remain the tallest building in the state. The Couture will be 516 feet tall, which will make it the fourth tallest building in Milwaukee, according to Emporis.

“We’ll have to build another one. … We’ll definitely have to breach the U.S. Bank building at some point,” said Barrett with a smile.

Rick Barrett, founder and CEO of Barrett Lo Visionary Development, talks about The Couture at a groundbreaking event.
Rick Barrett, founder and CEO of Barrett Lo Visionary Development, talks about The Couture at a groundbreaking event.

Construction crews for The Couture will spend much of the first year performing demolition and excavation work. They will dig around 60 feet into the ground, where two sublevels of parking will be built, said Eric Wynn, general manager of Findorff’s Milwaukee operations.

The equipment on site Tuesday will be used to tear up and remove the existing concrete slab.

The sewer line on the west side of the site will be relocated. “That’s going to be integral to getting done in the next two to three months, along with the mass excavation,” Wynn said.

About 15 trucks will average four or five trips to and from the site each day removing soil and other excavated material, said Wynn. The soil will be taken to one of three sites, based on its classification, he said.

Vertical construction for The Couture is slated to start next year.

Barrett-Lo has already preleased about 30 apartments, mostly to suburban residents looking to downsize and move downtown. Those units are mostly on the top floors, Barrett said.

A heavier preleasing push won’t happen for another year. Barrett-Lo is working with Lincoln Property Co. on the apartment leasing.

Barrett shared his vision for the approximately 50,000 square feet of retail space in a previous interview. He has recruited JLL’s Chicago office for retail leasing.

Barrett-Lo closed on its project financing on April 30, and site preparation work started earlier this month.

The project has overcome numerous challenges over the years, including a lawsuit and trouble with raising enough equity. Barrett also revealed in a recent interview that the COVID-19 pandemic presented another financing hurdle.

Night view from North Lincoln Memorial Drive and East Clybourn Street. Rendering: Rinka
Night view rendering of The Couture from North Lincoln Memorial Drive and East Clybourn Street. Rendering: Rinka

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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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