New downtown Milwaukee office building planned for BMO Harris

Bank working with Irgens as developer for project

A new office tower for BMO Harris is planned at the site of the parking structure (left) at the bank’s existing downtown Milwaukee office building (center). Real estate development firm Irgens will acquire the bank’s existing office tower and refurbish it for new tenants, according to an internal BMO Harris memo acquired by BizTimes.

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 05:00 pm

BMO Harris Bank is working with real estate development firm Irgens to develop a new office tower in downtown Milwaukee that will become the bank’s main Milwaukee office location, according to several commercial real estate sources familiar with the plans.

A new office tower for BMO Harris is planned at the site of the parking structure at the bank’s existing downtown Milwaukee office building.

Irgens plans to build the tower on the site of BMO Harris’ seven-story parking structure at 780 N. Water St., next to its existing downtown Milwaukee office building and an adjacent surface parking lot, according to sources. The existing parking structure would be demolished to make way for the new building, which would have its own structured parking.

BMO Harris will occupy a portion of the new building and also has another tenant lined up to occupy part of the building, according to sources.

Irgens and BMO Harris officials would not comment, but will hold a press conference Thursday where the project is expected to be announced.

The future of BMO Harris’ current 20-story building at 770-778 N. Water St. is unclear. Several sources say it will be demolished. Others say it will be sold or redeveloped.

It is also unclear what the size of the new building will be. A local architect familiar with the project said BMO Harris will be downsizing its space for efficiency. The bank currently has about 160,000 square feet of office space downtown.

“The building will probably be similar to Irgens’ 833 building (a 17-story office building at 833 E. Michigan St.) with floor plates around 27,000 square feet,” the architect said. “We’re probably looking at only six to seven stories for BMO. Unless they are looking at creating spec space for another company to move in.”

BMO’S current headquarters is a Class B, 280,511-square-foot office tower built in 1967 as the headquarters for M&I Bank. It is currently assessed by the city of Milwaukee at about $19.8 million. The 49-year-old building has similar structural issues as Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company’s East Office Building, which was deconstructed in 2014 to make room for the new Northwestern Mutual Tower & Commons project, according to the local architect who did not want to be named.

Redeveloping the current BMO Harris office building would require recladding the building, the architect said.

“At some point, it’s less expensive to build an entire (new) building,” than to repair and maintain an older building, he said.

The Godfrey & Kahn law firm moved out of the BMO Harris building in March to anchor the new 833 E. Michigan St. building, after leasing 92,000 square feet in the BMO Harris building since 1968.

The parking structure, also built in 1967, is seven stories and 212,443 square feet.

Chicago-based BMO Harris Bank N.A has approximately 200 branches in Wisconsin, which is one of the company’s largest markets. BMO has about 3,000 employees in the Milwaukee market. The bank has two divisions based in Milwaukee.

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