Plans unveiled for 32-story luxury apartment tower in Third Ward

Houston developer proposing 295 units at Water Street and St. Paul Avenue

333 N. Water St. Rendering: SCB
333 N. Water St. Rendering: SCB

Last updated on May 21st, 2021 at 01:49 pm

Concept plans for a new 32-story luxury apartment tower at 333 N. Water St. in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward received the backing of a neighborhood review panel today.

A city alderman said the $140 million project, which as proposed would require no public subsidy, would likely receive overwhelming support from his colleagues should it come before them for approval.

Houston-based Hines is proposing 295 apartments, a 400-stall parking structure and retail space southwest of East St. Paul Avenue and North Water Street, which is now a parking lot. It is working with Chicago-based architect Solomon Cordwell Buenz.

The building would reach 365 feet at its tallest point. By comparison, The Moderne building in downtown Milwaukee is 348 feet tall and the 7Seventy7 building downtown is 387 feet tall.

The tower containing the residential units would stand at the northern part of the site, along St. Paul Avenue. A seven-story parking structure would be attached to the south of the tower. Below the parking deck and apartments would be a ground floor containing two retail spaces, a residential lobby and a loading area.

A ninth-floor amenity deck would feature a fitness area, co-working offices, a lounge, an outdoor pool deck and a pool lounge. The apartments would be a mix of studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

There would be a pocket park next to the Milwaukee River, with outdoor dining space for a presumptive restaurant tenant in one of the storefront spaces. The team also proposes a new connection of the downtown RiverWalk to St. Paul Avenue at the site.

Hines and SCB presented its plans for preliminary review today to the Historic Third Ward Architectural Review Board. Although a vote was not required, board members voted 6-1 in favor of the concept, the height and massing.

The project team will work through some concerns the review board mentioned, and bring the proposal back for a certificate of appropriateness. The project will then either need a zoning variance from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals or a change in zoning, which requires approval of the Common Council.

“I would say a $140 million project with no subsidy, immediate increase to the tax base would, barring some unique circumstance, would receive overwhelming support at the Council,” said Alderman Robert Bauman, who represents the Third Ward and sits on the review board.

The tower is proposed at what the city considers a gateway site to the Third Ward. That’s according to a comprehensive land-use plan for the neighborhood adopted several years ago. It would be much taller than any other building in the Third Ward. A high-rise wouldn’t be permitted in most of the Third Ward, but this gateway site on the edge of the neighborhood is an exception and the neighborhood plan has long called for a tall building at the site.

Project team members pointed out language in the plan that states the site of the proposed tower, “offers a golden opportunity to mark what is possibly the most prominent gateway to the neighborhood.”

Board members brought up a few concerns with the project, particularly about the parking garage. They recognized the parking was needed for residents and retail customers, but asked for changes to its appearance.

Board member Greg Patin pointed out Third Ward RiverWalk design standards discourages new parking lots and parking structures. That can be mitigated through the structure’s façade and landscaping around it.

“Getting this garage figured out, I think, is critical,” he said.

Board member Michael DeMichele, who cast the lone vote against conceptual project approval, was more critical than his colleagues. He called the garage “dark, ominous (and) depressing,” and said it would be an “immediate blight” if built.

DeMichele added he was worried about the density and height of the structure. He questioned why such a large development would be needed at the site.

“It’s a very busy corner, it’s a very busy street, and I guess I keep wondering why this much scale and height and density on this particular site when it seems like there are other sites that’d be better suited for that kind of a project,” he said.

Tom D’Arcy, senior managing director in Hines’ Chicago office, said the firm has looked at other development sites in the Milwaukee area for around three or four years. This is the only one that can generate enough excitement from its investors, he said.

“We think it’s perhaps the best site in the city for residential,” he said. D’Arcy cited various reasons for this, such as its proximity to I-794 and the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, the fact it’s on the river, along the streetcar line and the bustling commercial activity around it, including the Milwaukee Public Market.

What’s more, the parking garage is necessary for the project to obtain a loan, D’Arcy said. The ratio of 1.3 spaces per unit is very much driven by the market, and is at the low end of other Hines projects.

Hines is a privately owned real estate investment, development and management firm. It has done business in 240 cities and 27 countries. This includes two development projects in Milwaukee.

The firm was development manager of the Northwestern Mutual headquarters project and 7Seventy7 apartment tower in downtown Milwaukee. SCB was also the architect on 7Seventy7.

Another high-profile project has been proposed in the Third Ward, just a few blocks away. Hales Corners-based Wimmer Communities is planning an 11-story, 102-room hotel at 125 N. Water St.

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Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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