Lakefront Gateway will change Milwaukee

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele today announced that state and local officials have struck a deal on a $34 million plan to redesign the Lake Interchange area, which will open up a 3-acre potential development site near the lakefront in downtown Milwaukee.

Supporters of the Lakefront Gateway plan say it will also help attract development to Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward, improve pedestrian access to the lakefront and enhance the appearance of the entrance to the lakefront and its attractions.

“We are moving forward with specific projects that will substantially change how people and cars move in this neighborhood,” Barrett said. “At the same time, we are opening up valuable land, along Clybourn Street and in the Historic Third Ward, for new development. And we are adding new energy to an attractive area of downtown where investment and job creation are booming.”

“This is huge,” said Richard “Rocky” Marcoux, commissioner for the Department of City Development. “This is a generational opportunity to change the gateway to Milwaukee.”

The Lake Interchange redesign is part of the state’s Hoan Bridge reconstruction project. Under the plan announced today, exit and entrance ramps which currently connect Lincoln Memorial Drive to I-794 will be eliminated and replaced with new on and off ramps about a block south.

The elimination of the existing ramps will open up a 3-acre triangular-shaped development site, currently used for surface parking, located along Clybourn Street just south of the Milwaukee County Downtown Transit center where Barrett Visionary Development plans to build a 44-story building, called The Couture, with luxury apartments, a hotel, a relocated Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, and retail space.

After the Hoan Bridge and Lake Interchange projects are complete, the new lakefront development site will be put on the market, Marcoux said. The property is owned by the county, which must share some of the sale proceeds with the federal government. The site could support 750,000 to 1 million square feet of mixed-use development, Marcoux said.

The plan includes the extension of Lincoln Memorial Drive, from its current terminus at the on and off ramps to the Hoan Bridge, south to Polk Street in the Third Ward. That will improve vehicular access to the Third Ward and could help attract development to vacant sites in the Third Ward, including the Italian Community Center property, Marcoux said.

The plan also includes the conversion of Clybourn Street into a boulevard that crosses Lincoln Memorial Drive east to Discovery World, an improved Michigan Street and new pedestrian bridges that would connect The Couture to O’Donnell Park and the lakefront.

The pedestrian bridges and street improvements will provide much better pedestrian access to the lakefront, Marcoux said. There is a 20- to 30-foot drop from Wisconsin Avenue to the lakefront and, other than the Milwaukee Art Museum bridge, there is a lack of safe access points for pedestrians to get from downtown to the lakefront, he said.

“This (creates) a beautiful way to get over Lincoln Memorial Drive to the lakefront in a safe and elegant fashion,” Marcoux said.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation will pay for the $16 million cost of demolishing the existing Lake Interchange ramps and the building the new ramps, with funds allocated for the Hoan Bridge project. The city will pay for the $18 million cost of extending Lincoln Memorial Drive, creating a Clybourn Street boulevard, improving Michigan Street, and for the new pedestrian bridges. Those funds will be provided by tax revenues created by the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. tax incremental financing (TIF) district for the expansion of the company’s headquarters. The company plans to build a 30- to 35-story, 840,000 square-foot office tower to replace an existing 16-story, 450,000-square-foot building on its headquarters campus.

“An important message here is that all levels of government, the state, the county and the city, have joined together to advance significant infrastructure improvements,” Barrett said. “All of this work was possible because people, organizations, businesses, cultural institutions and government representatives worked together to develop imaginative solutions and define priorities. We have an opportunity to make changes that future generations will appreciate and admire.”

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