The Couture gets financing approval, construction to begin in January

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The Couture, a long-planned $188 million, 44-story luxury residential tower development near downtown Milwaukee’s lakefront, has been approved for a $103.5 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency announced Monday.

The loan guarantee is the last crucial piece The Couture developer, Rick Barrett of Milwaukee-based Barrett Lo Visionary Development, sought in putting together the project financing. The developer said construction is slated to begin in January. A spokesperson for Barrett Lo added the firm expects to close on the project financing in December.

“HUD’s Firm Commitment marks the final financial commitment required for us to begin construction on The Couture,” Barrett said in a statement. “We are thrilled to be working with the City, County and HUD on this catalytic development that will transform this vacant site into a dynamic public space that improves access to the lakefront, creates thousands of new jobs and adds a signature building to Milwaukee’s skyline.”

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The successful application comes nearly three months after Barrett reapplied for the HUD loan guarantee, after letting a previous loan application lapse. It has been about five months since Barrett announced he had secured enough investor equity.

HUD said it approved The Couture’s application on Friday.

“On Friday, November 20th HUD issued the Firm Commitment for Insurance in the amount of nearly $103.5 million for The Couture project in Milwaukee,” HUD spokesperson Gina Rodriguez wrote in an email. Rodriguez did not provide further comment.

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The 700,000-square-foot project is to include apartments, commercial space and a transit center for The Hop streetcar line and Milwaukee County’s planned bus rapid-transit system.

Vertical construction could begin six months from groundbreaking, according to a timeline provided by a spokesperson for Barrett Lo. Construction will initially focus on the removal of an existing sewer line and groundwork. Groundwork should take about three months, and then it will be another three months for crews to work back up to ground level to begin vertical construction.

According to a news release, 25% of the total building and 97% of its ground level will be for public use. This is where the multi-modal transportation hub.

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“The Couture will become a national model for transit-oriented development, transforming an underutilized County property into a catalytic development that connects our community in innovative ways, bridges downtown to the lakefront and brings thousands of new construction jobs to our community at a time when they are needed more than ever,” County Executive David Crowley said in a statement.

The project is also tied to certain workforce-development commitments. It will strive for residents to perform at least 40% of construction work, and to allocate at least 25% of contracting dollars toward disadvantaged businesses. Barrett has also provided $100,000 toward an apprenticeship training program being run by workforce-development group Employ Milwaukee.

“This is a great step forward for this remarkable project,” Mayor Tom Barrett said in a statement. “The Couture is a beautiful addition at an exceptional location. The project will create construction jobs for city residents and work for emerging businesses; and it will add a transportation link that connects more people to the lakefront. The center of our city will be stronger with the Couture, and that is beneficial to everyone in Milwaukee.”

Plans for The Couture were first announced in 2012. It was delayed by a lawsuit, then could not collect enough investor equity to satisfy the requirements of its first application for a HUD guarantee.

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