DNR says Downtown Transit Center not subject to public trust doctrine

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced last week that it has determined that the Downtown Transit Center site in Milwaukee is not subject to the state’s public trust doctrine.

The announcement clears a potential hurdle for Barrett Visionary Development’s proposed 44-story hotel and residential development for the site.

Developer Rick Barrett has proposed a 44-story building, called The Couture, with a 180-room hotel, 179 upscale apartments and 40,000 square feet of retail space for the site, located southwest of Michigan Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive. The site is currently occupied by the Downtown Transit Center, which provides bus storage and bus transfers for the Milwaukee County Transit System.

County officials decided that the Downtown Transit Center was not the highest and best use for the site. The county sought development proposals for the site and selected Barrett’s project. Barrett is in negotiations with Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s office for a purchase and development agreement for the site.

But Parks advocacy group Preserve Our Parks has objected to The Couture project saying the site was originally part of Lake Michigan and is now on filled lake bed. The group said private development should not be allowed on that site because of the public trust doctrine of the state constitution, which preserves public access and use of all waterways.

Last year DNR officials told Milwaukee County officials that the site is not subject to the public trust doctrine. After another review, prompted by Preserve Our Parks, the DNR again said the site is not subject to the public trust doctrine.

“The survey information presented by Preserve our Parks all predate statehood of Wisconsin in 1848 and do not definitely establish the exact location of the shore of Lake Michigan in the vicinity of the Milwaukee Transit Center site,” said DNR attorney Kris Hess. “The Milwaukee Transit Center site has not been demonstrated to be submerged lands.”
Click here to read the full explanation from Hess.

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