Northwestern Mutual kicks off tower construction

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. hosted a celebration this morning to mark the end of demolition work and the start of construction work for the $450 million, 32-story, 1.1 million-square-foot Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons office building on its downtown Milwaukee campus.

The new building will replace a 16-story, 452,000-square-foot office building on the campus that has been demolished. The demolition work began in December.

Planning for the new building began about four years ago.

“I’m so glad this day is finally here,” said Northwestern Mutual Chief Executive Officer John Schlifske. “All of the years of planning and demolition work is over. This is not a groundbreaking, because we broke ground long ago. But now we’re going to see something rise out of the ground.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett thanked Schlifske and the company’s board for investing in the city.

“(Schlifske) could have made the decision to build this anywhere,” Barrett said. “I believe that they decided to build here because they believe in this city. You have to have people that believe.”

Northwestern Mutual has committed to have at least 40 percent of the workers on the project be city residents and is supporting worker training efforts for construction workers for this and other future construction projects in the area. The project will employ about 1,000 construction workers.

“A lot of the work is going to be done by people that live in this city,” Barrett said. “A lot of people are critical of people in this city, but I have to tell you, they want to work.”

The city is providing $54 million in tax incremental financing for the project.

“We decided this partnership is critical to the future of the city of Milwaukee,” Barrett said.

The project will capitalize on the Northwestern Mutual campus location near the lakefront, Schlifske said. In addition to the building, the project will create a three acre public green space with gardens, trees, a water feature, tables, benches and walkways.

“We are in probably one of the most beautiful places in Wisconsin and maybe the United States,” he said. “(Investing in downtown Milwaukee) is the right thing to do for Northwestern Mutual. I’m so excited that the right thing to do for Northwestern Mutual is also the right thing to do for the City of Milwaukee.”

The new building will enable Northwestern Mutual to keep 1,100 of its employees on the downtown campus and will provide space to eventually add 1,900 additional employees. The company currently has a total of 3,000 employees in downtown Milwaukee.

The project is expected to be complete in 2017. The building will be 550 feet tall, about the same height as the 100 East building downtown and second to only the 601-foot tall U.S. Bank Center as the tallest building in the city and the state.

A team of Gilbane Building Co. and Milwaukee-based C.G. Schmidt Inc. is the general contractor for the project. New Haven, Conn.-based Pickard Chilton is the design architect for the project. Houston-based Kendall/Heaton Associates is the architect of record for the project.

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