Construction is finally commencing on The Couture, nine years after it was first proposed by local developer Rick Barrett, founder and chief executive officer of Barrett-Lo Visionary Development.
The project has overcome several obstacles throughout the years to reach this point. The COVID-19 pandemic was one of them, as it caused some equity partners to back out of the project.
"We needed to create $42 million of new equity when that happened," Barrett said.
The Couture is a $188 million, 44-story apartment tower that will be built at 909 E. Michigan St., near the downtown Milwaukee lakefront. It will include 322 residential units, 50,000 square feet of retail space, 900 parking spaces and a public transportation concourse.
Barrett said before the pandemic hit, the project team felt it was in a comfortable spot with the equity it had raised.
"But when it hit, there were some other groups that were involved with us that had exposure in the hotel industry, and the hotels were really hit hard," he said. "Because of that, we lost a couple of groups that were going to be part of our team."
The development team was able to move one of the equity partners to a different part of the capital stack, from a preferred equity provider to a common equity provider. It then found new investors to fill in the gaps that were created by others backing out.
The project has more than $70 million in equity, Barrett said. It is also financed with a $104.7 million loan backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Barrett-Lo closed on the loan on Friday.
Barrett credits Milwaukee-based R.W. Baird & Co. Inc. for helping him secure enough equity. He announced their involvement in the project in July 2019.
"I'm really proud to have partnered with them," he said. "They were able to garner an incredible amount of equity from around the country. That type of investment coming to Milwaukee has never been done before. That type of institutional equity, it's a huge number."
After closing on project financing late last week, Barrett Lo announced it would begin construction work on Wednesday. The general contractor is Madison-based J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.
Barrett said Findorff has pulled permits and was granted road and sidewalk closures. Site mobilization work has started, he said. But the more visible earth-moving work won't start until next week, he said.
Barrett said he stuck with the Couture project, first proposed in 2012, after years of delay because he felt it was something the city of Milwaukee deserves. Hopefully when it finishes in 2023, it will be a symbol that the city is open for business following the pandemic, he said.
"I just believe this is a big boy building," Barrett said. "I believe this big boy building is deserving in this great city that we live in, and I wanted to get it done."