Northwestern Mutual makes major investment in Van Buren Street building

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Inc. has made a $33 million investment in an 87-year-old office building on Van Buren Street, adjacent to its downtown Milwaukee corporate headquarters campus.

Hundreds of employees will be moved to the Van Buren Street building while the company builds a new office tower. The long-term future of the Van Buren Street building is unclear, but the company says it will have a major role in its headquarters campus.

“It has yet to be determined what departments or operations will relocate from (the) Van Buren (Street building) once construction of the new building is complete,” said Northwestern Mutual spokesman John Gardner. “But we do know that the Van Buren building will be a long-term part of our downtown campus.”

Northwestern Mutual purchased the building, located at 727-733 N. Van Buren St., from Van Buren Management Inc. in January for $6.86 million, according to state records. The sale price was higher than the building’s 2012 assessed value of $4.23 million, but still lower than its 2008 assessed value of $9.85 million, according to city records.

The seven-story building, constructed in 1926, has 153,720 square feet of space and is located just west of the Northwestern Mutual corporate headquarters campus. It will be connected to the campus by a skywalk that the company plans to build over Van Buren Street.

Northwestern Mutual recently completed a $27 million renovation project of the Van Buren Street building. Mortenson Construction was the general contractor and Eppstein Uhen Architects was the designer for the renovation project, which involved two dozen local subcontractors and 350 workers,

“The building was gutted,” said Chris Partleton, vice president of facility operations for Northwestern Mutual. “We have moved everything except for the location of the elevators.”

With the purchase price and renovation costs, Northwestern Mutual has invested more than $33 million into the building.

The improvements included environmentally-friendly elements that the company expects will bring the building a LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. It would be the first LEED certified building in the Northwestern Mutual headquarters campus. Environmentally-friendly improvements to the building include the replacement of all of the building’s nearly 200 windows and the addition of energy efficient plumbing fixtures, heating and cooling systems.

“We wanted to create a sustainable and environmentally-friendly workplace,” Partleton said.

Northwestern Mutual plans to demolish a 16-story, 452,000-square-foot building, known as the East Building on its headquarters campus, to make way for a new 33-story, 1.1-million-square-foot building. Demolition work for the East Building is expected to begin in December and be complete in mid-2014.

The new building project is creating a major human resources logistical challenge for Northwestern Mutual. The total number of employees vacating the East Building is 1,100. Recently, the company began moving 600 employees from the East Building into the Van Buren Street building. The relocation of those employees will be complete by the end of October. The other 500 employees in the East Building will be moved to other buildings the company has in downtown Milwaukee or at its Franklin campus. In order to accommodate the employees from the East Building, about 3,000 other employee moves have taken place to consolidate space in other areas of the company’s downtown Milwaukee and Franklin campuses.

“By the time we’re done we will move 4,000 people,” Partleton said. “It’s been running pretty smoothly.”

Northwestern Mutual’s facility operations group, field growth and development, planning and sales, marketing, compliance and some IT employees, will be moved to the Van Buren Street building, Partleton said. A health clinic for employees, their families and retirees will also be located in the building.

The company has not determined its long-range plans for the Van Buren Street building, after the 33-story new office tower is complete in 2017.

“We’re definitely going to keep (the Van Buren Street building) as a long term piece of our campus,” Partleton said. “We built the space to be flexible. Right now, it’s just an open, flexible space for us.”

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