Near West Side group still behind $164 million state office building project after lawmakers opt against funding it

Building proposed at 27th and Wisconsin

Credit: Google
Site of proposed Milwaukee State Office Building. Credit: Google

After state lawmakers declined to put money toward a proposed new state office building on Milwaukee’s Near West Side, a group championing the project says it still backs the proposal.

The Republican-led Joint Finance Committee this week did not include funding the construction of the new office building in their budget plan.

Gov. Evers proposed $163.6 million to go toward the project in the two-year capital budget he introduced earlier this year. The Legislature ultimately creates the budget, but Evers has line-item veto powers to make changes.

State officials have long eyed a replacement to the existing downtown Milwaukee office building at 819 N. Sixth St. A new office building, proposed for the southwest corner of 27th Street and Wisconsin Avenue, would also consolidate other offices in the area.

The project had the strong backing of the business community. Advocacy efforts were led by Near West Side Partners Inc., a non-profit group that aims to revitalize the Milwaukee neighborhood.

NWSP previously said the office building would “serve as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization.”

Keith Stanley, executive director of NWSP, said his group remains committed to the project.

“Near West Side Partners has a dedicated, proactive vision for the development of the key commercial corridors in Milwaukee’s Near West Side,” he said in a statement following the Joint Finance Committee decision. “The state has been, and will continue to be, a catalytic partner in the Near West Side. We look forward to working with the state on their investment in the land at 27th and Wisconsin, and remain committed to bringing a new state office building to that site in the future.”

Stanley added, “The Milwaukee State Office Building will be a significant milestone in the catalytic development occurring in the Near West Side, presenting the opportunity to bring jobs, continued investment and further economic development to our community.”

In an emailed statement, Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan made the case for a new Milwaukee state office building.

“(Evers) has a clear vision for reshaping the state’s building portfolio to shrink our physical footprint, to improve recruitment and retention of the state’s workforce, to better serve Wisconsinites, and to save taxpayers money,” he said in the statement. “Unfortunately, Republicans in the legislature have generally said ‘no’ to that vision and have ignored glaring capital needs. We shouldn’t have to wait for state buildings to literally fall apart and threaten the safety of folks in and around them before legislative Republicans are willing to invest.”

Brennan also pointed out that plans for a new Milwaukee state office building were first proposed by former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican.

“We will continue to advocate for the new Milwaukee State Office building because it is the right thing for Milwaukee, for the State, and for taxpayers,” Brennan said.

Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

At a previous State Building Commission meeting on the state capital budget, Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) noted that the capital budget is too large and that the projects are being proposed in the middle of a pandemic. The future of the state’s office facility needs is in question due to potential changes in work situations, he said. Many employees are currently not working in an office.

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Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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