Some local business leaders, especially those with a presence on Milwaukee's Near West Side, are touting the myriad benefits a new $164 million Milwaukee State Office Building would have on the neighborhood.
Gov. Tony Evers revealed this week his proposed $2.4 billion, 2021-2023 capital budget. It included $163.6 million for the construction of a new 283,000-square-foot office building southwest of 27th Street and Wisconsin Avenue.
It would put 1,000 state jobs under one roof, replacing the existing state office building in downtown Milwaukee at 819 N. Sixth St. and consolidating other operations currently in privately leased spaces.
"What the governor announced this week was welcome news for us," said Steve Baas, senior vice president of governmental affairs at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
He said MMAC and others have lobbied for the building to be constructed on the Near West Side for the better part of a decade.
Perhaps the project's biggest champion is Near West Side Partners Inc., a non-profit group that aims to revitalize the Milwaukee neighborhood.
Keith Stanley, executive director of NWSP, said in a statement the new office building and associated parking structure would, "serve as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization, bringing new developments and job opportunities along one of Milwaukee's key commercial corridors and supporting unprecedented public and private investments in the Near West Side."
NWSP has for the last several years worked to assemble the site in anticipation of the state project.
Developer Rick Wiegand, who is active in the Near West Side area, said the State Office Building gives him confidence to move forward with $50 million worth of development projects.
"I am already proceeding with the Ambassador Suites project, which is phase 1 of the development of a hospitality campus that will include outdoor recreational space and meeting and banquet facilities," Wiegand said in an email.
Beyond his projects, the State Office Building will also serve to "trigger a number of other projects in the area that have been in the planning phase for several years," he said.
Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan said the State Office Building project should generate additional economic activity in an area that has seen "significant disinvestment over the years."
"Putting several hundred people on the corner of 27th and Wisconsin in a State Office Building should have some additional economic benefits to that part of the Milwaukee community," he said in a recent interview.
Project funding must first be approved by the State Building Commission and kept in the budget by the state Legislature.
Lawmakers opted not to include the project in the last budget.
Representatives of state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the latest proposal.
"The thing I think the Legislature would look at in the same way that the executive branch has, is the opportunity here to create efficiency, do things more effectively, but also to consolidate things in a way that I think is going to have a huge impact for years to come," Brennan said. "We're in a nearly 60-year-old building now, and the operation of that is only going to get more challenging and more expensive from year to year."
Baas said his group is making the case with lawmakers for a new State Office Building in terms of both value and need. He noted the project will only get more expensive the longer the state waits to move forward.
He said lawmakers have some hard decisions ahead of them in crafting the budget. There are a lot of projects that need funding but only so much the state is able to take on.
"There’s always more will than wallet in terms of what people want and believe they need in their own districts and regions," Baas said.
The state is working on acquiring the site and preparing it for construction. Members of the State Building Commission this month approved spending $4 million toward this feat. That money had already been enumerated in a previous budget.
A Department of Administration spokesperson said earlier this week that the sate has not yet closed on the acquisition of the site, but should have a closing date scheduled soon.
Talks of a new office building in Milwaukee date back to Evers' predecessor, former Gov. Scott Walker. The project has only grown in size and cost since then.
Evers' last budget plan proposed spending $98.5 million on a 200,000-gross-square-foot office building. Before that, Walker called for a new office building at 163,400 gross square feet, according to the spokesperson.
The state renewed its planning for an office building project when it issued a request for proposals in September 2019. Only one site met the state's desired criteria, the spokesperson said in an email.
Milwaukee-based Continuum Architects + Planners was hired in 2018 to design the office building.