The Couture's construction might be the key that unlocks the long-anticipated greater redevelopment of the Lakefront Gateway area in downtown Milwaukee.
Construction work for the $188 million, 44-story tower at 909 E. Michigan St. began last week, with more visible work commencing this week. It is just one of the longstanding projects planned for the area around Clybourn Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive.
It's been years since the movement of a pair of I-794 ramps in the Lake Interchange and reconfiguration and extension of city streets in the area of Lincoln Memorial Drive and Clybourn Street, as part of the Lakefront Gateway project. That project aimed to improve connections between the lakefront, downtown Milwaukee, and the Historic Third Ward, and also opened up a 2.7-acre development site across Clybourn Street from The Couture sitre.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation owns the 2.7-acre site, and recruited Colliers International | Wisconsin to market it for private redevelopment. Nicknamed MKE Gateway, the site is listed for sale at $13.9 million.
It is being pitched as a prime site for a corporate headquarters project. Conceptual renderings depict a 50-story tower there.
Lyle Landowski, the future president and chief executive officer of Colliers | Wisconsin, said the site had some initial interest in the market before the COVID-19 pandemic. The Couture project moving forward and improving market conditions may renew interest in the site, he said.
It's also been several years since a push to create a new lakefront public plaza took major steps forward. The city desires to create the Lakefront Gateway Plaza east of The Couture, between other major points of interest on the lakefront including the Milwaukee Art Museum, Discovery World and the Summerfest grounds.
A lot of work remains unfinished on the plaza, not the least of which is the task of raising tens of millions of dollars to finance its construction.
The city announced in October 2015 it had selected a design team led by Milwaukee-based Graef-USA Inc. as the winner of a national design competition for the plaza. About a year later, the team began a $26 million fundraising campaign for the project.
A new estimated cost will need to be determined. The cost has likely gone up since the last estimate, given the rise in building material costs, said Vanessa Koster, deputy commissioner of Milwaukee's Department of City Development.
Beyond that, a new ownership structure for the plaza site will need to be created. Ownership of the site is split between the city and county, Koster said. The city has not begun working out all these details yet.
"Certainly the recent closing of (financing for) the Couture has reignited excitement around the Lakefront Gateway Plaza, however, (DCD) has not dedicated time recently to discuss the Plaza," Koster said in an email.
These three sites, plus the O'Donnell Park parking structure to the north of The Couture, are proposed to be connected via a series of pedestrian bridges.
Koster said the connection points of the Lakefront Gateway pedestrian bridge at The Couture are already approved as part of the site's current zoning. The bridge design and connection points for the O'Donnell parking garage and the state-owned site have not been determined.
"This work would be forthcoming," she said. "Cost estimates and funding source determination would need to follow."
Connectivity has been the biggest challenge to the MKE Gateway site, Landowski said. Without the pedestrian bridges, there isn't a great way to walk to the lakefront save for crossing at the intersection of Clybourn and Lincoln Memorial.
"Now to have a lakefront that is accessible via The Couture site, that's the missing piece to the puzzle that I think really unlocks the potential of our site," he said.