Northwestern Mutual Tower & Commons finally nears completion

Mid-year Economic Forecast

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. will open the new office tower at its downtown Milwaukee headquarters campus on Aug. 21.

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 04:56 pm

Milwaukee’s skyline has been transformed this year, with 32 new stories of steel and glass now framing the skyline.

When Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. announced it would build a new, $450 million office tower at its headquarters campus in downtown Milwaukee, it served as a bellwether for many firms that the city was a good place to invest.

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. will open the new office tower at its downtown Milwaukee headquarters campus on Aug. 21.

In late August, three years after the company broke ground on its 1.1 million-square-foot project, the Northwestern Mutual Tower & Commons will finally be complete.

“There have been several key developments over the last few years, but NML is probably the most key,” said Rocky Marcoux, commissioner for the Department of City Development. “With the history of the company and the statement they made in terms of its future downtown, it was a huge vote of confidence that really spurred a great deal of development.”

Another major ongoing downtown project, which won’t be completed until next year, is the new Milwaukee Bucks arena. In addition to the $524 million arena (financed by a mix of public and private funds), the Bucks are also building a 55,000-square-foot training center, a 37,000-square-foot community health center and a six-story parking structure with ground floor retail.

At the lakefront, not far from the new Northwestern Mutual tower, the Downtown Transit Center has been demolished and the long-discussed Couture, a $122 million, 44-story luxury apartment tower, is still expected to break ground in late fall. The project includes 50,000 square feet of retail and a Milwaukee Streetcar stop.

Construction on the streetcar has been underway since April. Track installation began on West St. Paul Avenue from the Milwaukee River to the downtown Intermodal Station, and work has continued on Broadway in the Third Ward, from I-794 to Clybourn Avenue. This summer, streetcar work will continue on North Jackson Street, East Ogden Avenue and North Milwaukee Street and then back to St. Paul, from the Milwaukee River to North Milwaukee Street. The $124 million project is expected to be operational in 2018.

“You are seeing a lot of investment in cities across the country. There has been a growth in appreciation of urbanism and cities across the country,” Marcoux said. “But the current development we are seeing in this city is unprecedented.”


Milwaukee developer Mark Irgens is working to secure financing to break ground this year on the first phase of the $137 million BMO Harris Financial Center project. The bank will demolish its existing parking structure immediately north of its building at 770 N. Water St. to make room for a new 25-story office tower.

Fortune 500 financial services technology developer Fiserv Inc. is considering plans to move its corporate headquarters, currently located in Brookfield, to a new building. The company is considering development proposals for sites in Brookfield, Wauwatosa and Milwaukee.

Irgens is also still hoping to break ground on its project in the Third Ward and Milwaukee-based Mandel Group Inc. also has plans for a three-building office project in Walker’s Point, but both developments are dependent on securing tenants.


The retail market has had many ups and downs since the beginning of the year, which will likely continue through 2017 and beyond. Sears has announced it will close its stores at Southridge Mall in Greendale and in Kenosha, and many other smaller retailers have also closed.

But the changes in retail have opened up opportunities for the space.

In Brookfield, the city and Brookfield Square owner CBL & Associates are making future plans at the mall for spaces currently occupied by Sears and the former Sears Auto Center. Earlier this year, CBL bought the Sears store properties. The Sears department store remains open for now. The Sears Auto Center close in May According to preliminary plans, the Sears department store space at the mall could eventually be used for a 40,000-square-foot entertainment center space and a 45,000-square-foot movie theater, and the city is considering building a 43,000-square-foot conference center and 175-room hotel at the site of the former Sears Auto Center.

Meanwhile, other retail developments have been more successful.

In April The Corners of Brookfield opened its first eight stores, including the state’s first Von Maur department store. Since then, additional stores have continued to open, including Sendik’s and L.L. Bean. A movie theater is also being proposed at the $200 million development.

In Greenfield, portions of 84South, a mixed-use development by Cobalt Partners at I-894 between West Layton Avenue and South 92nd Street, have been opening and Cobalt continues to announce new retailers. Cobalt also developed White Stone Station in Menomonee Falls, which includes retail, restaurants and apartments.


The region’s industrial market remains strong. During the second quarter of 2017, it absorbed 1.5 million square feet of space, a huge increase from a year ago, when about 800,000 square feet of space was absorbed.

The area added more than 1.8 million square feet of space during the quarter, led by Uline Inc.’s new 800,000-square-foot facility in Kenosha, and there is another 900,000 square feet of industrial space under construction in the region.

In Caledonia, village officials and the Racine County Economic Development Corp. are working to attract a  large tenant that could build up to a 1 million-square-foot industrial building near Highway K and I-94 in the DeBack Farms Business Park development.

But the biggest potential new development in the area could be a massive plant for Taiwanese technology manufacturer Foxconn. The firm, which makes most of Apple’s iPhones, is considering plans to build a massive plant, or several plants, in the United States. Wisconsin is one of several states being considered and state and local officials have met recently with Foxconn leaders, including founder and chairman Terry Gou. A memo written by state Legislative leaders indicated that Foxconn could build a plant with “up to 10,000 jobs” in southeastern Wisconsin.

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