The Couture project finally begins

Developer completes purchase of Downtown Transit Center from Milwaukee County

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Milwaukee developer Rick Barrett, the owner of Barrett Lo Visionary Development, finally completed the purchase of the Downtown Transit Center from Milwaukee County Monday and will begin work on the long awaited Couture project today.

Rendering of the Couture
Rendering of the Couture

“I’ve been saying just put the property in my hands and jump on my shoulders and we’re going to build this thing,” Barrett said. “Everything starts today.”

Over the next four weeks, Habitat for Humanity will be “deconstructing” the 24-year-old Transit Center to see if the organization can salvage anything for its future homes. From there, Barrett’s team will begin taking the building down from the inside out, which will take about six months.

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While the site is being cleared, Barrett said he will meet with potential retail tenants, his architectural team and financiers.

“We have tons of work to do, now that I finally own the land, I can start having discussions with the retailers I had to put on hold, and get to work on our drawings,” Barrett said.

The $122 million, 44-story luxury apartment building will take 32 months to complete once construction begins in 2017.

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The Couture project will have 302 apartments, about 50,000 square feet of retail space, public parking, transit connections and numerous public amenities, including a connection to the Lakefront Gateway Plaza.

It will be built at the southwest corner of Lincoln Memorial Drive and Michigan Street, near the lakefront in downtown Milwaukee.

In 2012, Milwaukee County sought development proposals for the Downtown Transit Center site and officials chose Barrett and his proposal for The Couture. The project was delayed for years by threats of litigation by parks advocacy group Preserve Our Parks, which said the site was originally part of Lake Michigan and therefore private development there is forbidden by the state’s public trust doctrine.

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Last year a Milwaukee County circuit court judge ruled that private development should be allowed on the site and Preserve Our Parks decided not to appeal, ending the legal dispute and finally clearing way for the project to proceed.

Milwaukee County Exectuive Chris Abele is projecting the project will create more than 2,000 jobs and generate $68 million in new value.

“Finally, after years of hard work, the county’s next great economic development project, the Couture, is moving forward,” Abele said in a written statement. “Instead of an underutilized transit center on our lakefront, Milwaukee will now have at the Couture a national model for transit-oriented development, connecting people with jobs and opportunities all over the county.”

Barrett said the big news is the amount of jobs the $122 million project will generate for the region. Some of the workers from other developments he has done will also work on building the Couture.

“A lot of these guys worked on the The Moderne, they’re working in Oak Creek and now they will work on The Couture,” Barrett said. “My job as a developer is to make sure the next big project happens to keep these guys working. People say construction trade jobs are temporary. That’s so untrue. These jobs are real, family sustaining jobs.”

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