Milwaukee leaders working to resolve latest Couture dispute at City Hall, says Common Council president

City attorney not signing off on newest change to development agreement

View from N Lincoln Memorial Drive and E Michigan St. Rendering: Rinka
Rendering of The Couture from North Lincoln Memorial Drive and East Michigan Street.

Last updated on March 19th, 2021 at 10:58 am

Just when you thought it was safe for the Couture developers to turn their attention to a project groundbreaking.

The Couture, a long-anticipated $188 million downtown luxury apartment tower, has hit yet another snag at City Hall.

The latest issue involves city attorney Tearman Spencer, who said he will not sign the most recent modification to the city’s development agreement with the project’s developer, Barrett Lo Visionary Development.

Common Council members earlier this month approved the new agreement, which now stipulates that Barrett Lo principals Rick Barrett and Tan Lo will donate $100,000 to a city anti-displacement fund.

The change to that agreement was put forward by downtown Alderman Robert Bauman.

In letters to council members, Spencer said that Bauman overstepped his authority as an alderman in drafting that change. Moreover, the city attorney must first approve any agreement with a consideration over $25,000 before other city leaders can act on it.

Because of those reasons, Spencer has refused to sign the newest development agreement.

Common Council President Cavalier Johnson today said the council is working to resolve the issue.

“The Common Council is diligently working with all parties to reach a resolution regarding The Couture so that we can advance this catalytic $188 million lakefront development that will add to our tax base, bring new investors to Milwaukee, improve transit connections, improve our skyline, bring new residents and income into our central business district, and most importantly, put Milwaukeeans to work,” Johnson said in an email.

Mayor Tom Barrett is also opposed to the new agreement. He declined to sign the latest change, but his signature was not needed since enough Common Council members backed the proposal.

“At committee, an amendment was added tying passage of the resolution to a contribution from Mr. (Rick) Barrett,” the mayor wrote in a letter to council members. “That amendment was unnecessary in light of his commitment to contribute to the Anti-Displacement Fund. I also believe the best public policy is to have my administration work with the council to develop a path toward funding the Anti-Displacement Fund in a manner that is transparent
and consistent so that both prospective developers and the city will not face uncertainty with each and every project.”

The city has a development agreement with Barrett Lo because The Couture is receiving city assistance through tax incremental financing.

It has been changed numerous times in recent months. The first change largely involved updated development timelines.

A later change made Barrett Lo responsible for repaying up to $1.4 million in federal grant money that the city may be forced to pay back if construction deadlines are missed on a related streetcar line extension that’s to run through The Couture. The anti-displacement fund donation was tacked onto this amendment.

After receiving a $103.5 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the fall, Barrett Lo expected to break ground on the Couture by Feb. 1. That timeline has been delayed largely due to firm renegotiating with the city over these various contract changes.

Read the March 8 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee here:

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Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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