Couture developer offers to cover liability for federal grant money on streetcar construction at project site

View of the ground level transit concourse from the second floor concourse showing the large format LED screen. Rendering: Rinka
View of the ground level transit concourse from the second floor concourse of The Couture. Rendering: Rinka

The developer of the Couture residential tower planned near the lakefront in downtown Milwaukee is promising to reimburse the city for federal grant money it invests at the project site that it may lose due to the late completion of the streetcar line.

That’s part of a personal guaranty the city may add to its agreement with the Couture developer, Milwaukee-based Barrett-Lo Visionary Development.

The Couture is a proposed $188 million, 44-story high-rise that would contain 322 units planned at the former Milwaukee County-owned site at 909 E. Michigan St.

A component of that project is a public transit center for buses and the city’s downtown streetcar, The Hop. The Couture will be a stop on The Hop’s lakefront extension.

Barrett-Lo recently 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. Revised development agreements with the city and county stipulated construction would start Feb. 1.

But then Barrett-Lo announced on Feb. 1 it would miss that deadline, as it worked to close on project financing.

As it works to complete that process, the firm now says it will personally cover liability associated with a federal grant the city received for the streetcar lakefront extension. The city has until July 31, 2022 to get begin operating the streetcar extension, or else it may have to pay back $1.4 million to the federal government.

The new guarantee from the developer requires another revision to the city’s development agreement for the project . The proposed revision will be considered by the Milwaukee Common Council in the coming weeks, starting with the council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee.

The federal grant for the streetcar was provided to the city under by what was then known as a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant. The grant program is now called Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD.

“Under the proposed legislation, Barrett-Lo will provide a personal guaranty to cover liability associated with the TIGER grant funds invested in the site,” Rick Barrett, founder and chief executive of Barrett-Lo, said. “We anticipate completing closing and advancing the project to meet all of our key construction timelines with (Common) Council approval.”

Once it breaks ground, construction of the Couture is supposed to take no more than 42 months to finish.

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