Preserve Our Parks still opposes The Couture, despite design changes

The leader of the parks advocacy group that is trying to block The Couture development on the lakefront says the group will likely remain opposed to the project, despite design changes unveiled today.

“I know they are just trying to sweeten it up,” said John Lunz, president of Preserve Our Parks.

The Couture is the proposed 44-story, $122 million luxury apartment tower planned by developer Rick Barrett at the current site of the Downtown Transit Center, owned by Milwaukee County and located southwest of Michigan Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive near the lakefront. The proposed building is designed by Milwaukee-based Rinka Chung Architecture.

Click here to see the updated renderings for The Couture.

Preserve Our Parks has threatened to file a lawsuit to stop the project. The group says much of the site was originally in the Lake Michigan lakebed and therefore private development is prohibited there by the state’s public trust doctrine. Earlier this year, Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation establishing a historic shoreline location that would allow The Couture to proceed. But Preserve Our Parks has still threatened to sue in an attempt to derail the project.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett today unveiled new design plans for The Couture that includes numerous public elements including: a rooftop park, a public transportation concourse, a streetcar stop, a walkway to the lakefront, a bike sharing station, public parking and a public plaza. The project has 81,560 square feet of public space and $17.5 million in public improvements, according to the announcement.

The $17.5 million in public space improvements, which include the park, access ramps and transit connections, would be paid for with tax incremental financing, said Jeff Fleming, spokesman for the Department of City Development.

If the public parking structure is included, The Couture has 178,000 square feet of space for public use, said Rick Barrett.

“The revised plan is not trying to address (the Preserve Our Parks concerns), it’s more about a new vision for development on the lakefront with public access and public amenities,” said Abele spokesman Brendan Conway. “This is about what best suits the site.”

City officials are planning an additional leg of the proposed streetcar route to run it through the Couture site, Rick Barrett said.

“That’s the proposal we are looking to execute, bringing the streetcar to the lakefront,” he said.

But despite the changes to the project that emphasize public use Preserve Our Parks will likely remain opposed to The Couture, said Lunz, who said he has not see the latest plans.

The planned apartment tower for The Couture remains in the same place on the site, and Preserve Our Parks opposes any private ownership on that part of the site or any other public trust doctrine land, Lunz said. The building will have 302 apartments and about 50,000 square feet of retail space. Previous plans for a hotel and for Betty Brinn Children’s Museum to move into the building have been dropped.

“It doesn’t seem like (the updated plans for The Couture are) going to alleviate the overriding issue of public ownership,” he said.

The group still plans to file a lawsuit if the project moves forward, Lunz said.

“I think that’s likely,” he said.

Rick Barrett said he hopes Preserve Our Parks will reconsider after they review the new plans, in which he says 97 percent of the base of the building is public space.

The building will have a park that will be owned and maintained by Barrett, but will be open to the public, Fleming said.

The threat of litigation by Preserve Our Parks has so far made it difficult to obtain title insurance for the property.

The title insurance issue is, “in the hands of the lawyers right now,” Rick Barrett said. “It’s really in their hands at this point.”

The County Board is expected to consider plans to sell the Downtown Transit Center site to Rick Barrett this fall, Conway said.

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