Irgens details plans for redevelopment of BMO building in downtown Milwaukee

"Total redevelopment' of building viewed as companion project to new office tower next door

Rendering courtesy of Kahler Slater.

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 10:54 am

As construction work continues on the new BMO Tower in downtown Milwaukee, the developer of that project is also busy laying plans for the “total redevelopment” of the existing BMO Harris office building next door.

The building is being considered for everything from hospitality, to multi-family, to office uses.

The BMO Tower project, located at 790 N. Water St., is scheduled to finish in December of this year, said Mark Irgens, chief executive officer and manager of Milwaukee-based developer Irgens Partners LLC. Among others, BMO Harris Bank is moving its downtown offices and bank branch into the building.

As for the existing BMO Harris office building at 770 N. Water St., where the existing BMO Harris branch is located, Irgens said he’s hired a firm to draw up some concepts of what that development project could be and plans to unveil those plans online by mid-July.

A marketing brochure for the project refers to it at 770 North. It also depicts either a hotel or multi-family units on the second through 10th floors, with office space on floors 11 through 20. The 21st story would be used for building services, and at the top would be a green roof.

“We’re anticipating a total redevelopment of the building,” Irgens said. “We’ll gut the interior, and we’ll save some of the common areas such as the marble lobbies and floors, and historic sorts of things like the bank lobby. But we’ll take everything (else) down to the studs, and then we’ll put in all new HVAC systems, all new electrical, we’ll put in a new window system.”

The building’s exterior will be cleaned later this summer, Irgens added, which will provide “a major change in just how it will look.” About 50 years’ worth of grit will be taken off the building (built in 1967), resulting in a more buff, or light brownish yellow, color.

What’s more, Irgens has a requirement in its leases with BMO and Michael Best & Friedrich, another tenant moving into the new BMO Tower, that the exterior windows at the existing building will be replaced. The developer, therefore, is looking to install floor-to-ceiling glass windows there.

Irgens said the building has two elevator banks, meaning the redeveloped building could potentially be divided depending on the end uses.

“We’re looking at perhaps having a mixed-use development where we’ll have retail on the lower level in the former branch bank, then we’ll create one or two lobbies depending on the uses for each of the elevator banks,” he said.

The developer has been in discussions with hotels for the project, though those talks have not been successful so far, said Irgens. Talks have also taken place with multi-family developers in regards to turning the lower floors into apartments.

“But we still haven’t decided whether we may just redevelop the whole thing as an office building,” Irgens said.

He added the building, with its views of downtown and the lake, would be good for either office or multi-family uses.

What’s more, 770 North and the BMO Tower will be integrated through a connector building, which will be also be redeveloped and likely used as a restaurant. Irgens said his firm is in talks with several restaurateurs to locate there. The loading docks at the connector building will also be shared by the two buildings.

“You’ll be able to walk from Mason Street all the way to Wells Street on the inside of the building,” he said. “So, we view this as a project that works together (with the BMO Tower) and is phased.”

The two buildings combined will total 700,000 square feet, which would make it the second-largest multi-tenant project after the U.S. Bank Center in downtown Milwaukee.

An open-air parking ramp will also likely be constructed on the existing parking lot to the east of the building, near the southwest corner of East Wells Street and North Broadway. This would be the last thing built, said Irgens, because the site would be used for staging construction materials for the redevelopment project.

When fully built out, 770 North is expected to cost more than $100 million, with some costs coming from needed asbestos abatement and other environmental-remediation work.

This would make the redevelopment cost more than the value of the building. To offset that, Irgens said he’s looking into the possibility of residential or historic tax credits.

“We really need to have some help on balancing the negative value that comes from some of the challenges,” he said.

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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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