New Franklin campus expands to accommodate NML’s growth
By Andrew Weiland, of SBT
The 500,000-square-foot office building under construction at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.’s new Franklin campus is more than twice the size the company originally had planned for the site.
The new campus, which employees will occupy in April, is located on 84 acres at the northwest corner of West Drexel Avenue and South 27th Street at the site of the former 41-Twin Drive-In.
The property is expected to provide enough space to accommodate the company’s expansion for the next 20 years.
The Franklin campus eventually could have four office buildings with 2 million square feet of space and four parking structures, Northwestern Mutual spokeswoman Deanna Tillisch said.
When company officials announced in September 2001 they were going to build a second campus, they said the first phase would be about 100,000 to 200,000 square feet of office space in one or two buildings.
"That was a very preliminary estimate of the scope of the project," Tillisch said. "Once we acquired the property, we did a complete study of what groups of employees we would move from downtown to Franklin. We decided we needed to move more people than we had initially announced in order to be sure we have all of our core business processes represented in both the Franklin and the downtown campuses."
Therefore, the building plans for the first phase of the Franklin campus were changed to include a five-story, 500,000-square-foot office building, an attached 40,000-square-foot data processing center and a five-story 900-space parking structure.
The project will cost about $125 million, company officials said.
About 850 employees will work there initially, including 600 involved in underwriting, claims payment and service of disability income insurance and life insurance.
About 200 of the employees will be involved in information systems and information technology. About 50 employees will work in corporate services.
Northwestern Mutual also purchased 37 acres north of the campus in the 7300 block of South 27th Street in Franklin and 30 acres nearby in Oak Creek.
The company has offered 18 acres of the 37-acre parcel to the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee.
"We have no plans for the 30 acres in Oak Creek or the other half of the 37-acre parcel," Tillisch said. "We bought the land so we would have some control over the type of development around our campus."
Opus North Corp. is the construction manager and general contractor for the development of the Franklin campus. Eppstein Uhen Architects is the design architect.
Northwestern Mutual’s Franklin campus includes a central heating, cooling and electrical plant, which will be able to accommodate the future expansion of the complex.
The building will also include a cafeteria and exercise center for employees. Employees will be able to step outside from the cafeteria to eat lunch on a terrace near a manmade waterfall and stream.
The most striking element of the building could be an elliptical-shaped point at the main entryway. It will be the most visible feature of the building from South 27th Street.
"Northwestern Mutual wanted an identifiable image that could stand on its own and hold its own in a complex that could have 2 million square feet of building," said T.J. Morley, design architect for Eppstein Uhen Architects.
The unusual elliptical shape posed some construction challenges.
"It takes time, and sometimes you need to redo some things to make it work," said Les Blum, senior vice president of Opus North Corp. "That’s a very striking deal. People will notice it."
The exterior of the first two floors of the building is covered with granite from Brazilian quarries that was shipped to Spain for processing and then to Milwaukee, Blum said.
"The granite has an earthen tone," Morley said. "It has a relatively informal, rough surface that makes the building fit in more in a natural state."
The structure of the building is a composite of steel and concrete.
"A composite is the right way to do a structure of this size," Blum said. "It’s more economical, it’s more flexible and it’s easier to pour."
The first phase of the campus will have extensive landscaping, including several natural wetlands that have been preserved and native prairie grasses. The landscaping also will include manmade ponds and a 400-foot long man-made stream with a 15-foot waterfall running along one side of the office building.
The building will provide ample views of the surrounding landscape, Morley said.
"The views from this building are really pretty unique because of the setting," he said.
Northwestern Mutual has increased its downtown Milwaukee employee base from about 3,100 in 1990 to about 4,530 today and has outgrown its headquarters, where it owns four buildings, Tillisch said.
"We’re very committed to staying (downtown)," Tillisch said. "(But) we’re bursting at the seams somewhat."
The company wanted a separate location from the downtown area so business operations could continue in case of problems downtown such as a flood or a power outage, Tillisch said.
"We recognized the need to have a site removed from downtown," she said. "If something happened downtown, if we were flooded out or what have you, we would have a place we could go now for business continuation purposes."
Although the company’s plans for a second campus were announced just after Sept. 11, 2001, they had nothing to do with terrorism fears downtown, Tillisch said.
Company officials chose the Franklin site for the second campus because it is close to the freeway and the airport, has enough available land and is also close to where several employees live.
The project is located at the boundary of Franklin and Oak Creek, and officials from those cities are hoping the campus will attract additional business development to their communities.
"We’re very happy and excited about it," said Franklin Mayor Fred Klimetz. "That part of Franklin could certainly use a shot in the arm."
Franklin officials hope the new development will include sit-down restaurants such as the Olive Garden, banks, quality hotels and more office buildings.
"We’re kind of hoping it sets the standard for a lot of things to follow," Klimetz said.
Oak Creek Mayor Richard Bolender hopes the Northwestern Mutual campus will also attract development to his city’s side of South 27th Street.
Bolender, who was elected in April, said he will consider any business development proposals and is working to encourage businesses to locate in his city.
"We have plenty of homes," Bolender said. "Now we need more businesses. I’ve called several businesses and have basically asked them, ‘Why don’t you come to Oak Creek?’ I just want more businesses to come and see what we’re all about."
Prior to Bolender’s election as mayor in April, Oak Creek officials established a moratorium for the sale of vacant land on South 27th Street near the Northwestern Mutual property, to give officials time to prepare for development proposals. The moratorium had ended.
The Northwestern Mutual development will provide a property tax revenue boost for the city of Franklin and the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District.
Property owners in the school district, which includes all of the city of Oak Creek and seven square miles of eastern Franklin, will see a reduction in property taxes because of the Northwestern Mutual development, unless their home’s assessed value increases significantly, said Robert Peck, director of business services for the district. Peck said he was unsure how much the tax rate will go down.
Franklin city officials will use the increased tax revenue from the development to help offset a $267,000 cut in shared revenue from the state for 2004, Klimetz said.
"It appears right now we probably will have to have only a few minor (budget) cuts," he said. "Without Northwestern Mutual, the cuts would have had to have been deeper."
City officials considered establishing a tax incremental financing (TIF) district to help pay for extending infrastructure to the Northwestern Mutual property, but they decided against it because of the state funding cuts, Klimetz said.
The city will pay for $1.2 million of the $2.6 million cost to bring sewer and water services to the area, said Cal Patterson, city of Franklin finance officer.
Property owners, including Northwestern Mutual, will pay for the remaining $1.4 million cost of the utility extension through increased property assessments.
Oct. 31, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee