The Couture takes step forward with invitation from HUD

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has asked the developer of the long-awaited Couture high-rise development in downtown Milwaukee to submit additional information for its loan guarantee application, signaling the project could soon be moving forward with its needed financing.

Rick Barrett, the founder and chief executive officer of Barrett Lo Visionary Development called the invitation by HUD a “major milestone” for The Couture.

“We are thrilled to be working with HUD on this catalytic development that will transform this vacant site into a vibrant public space that improves access to the lakefront, creates thousands of new jobs and adds a signature building to Milwaukee’s skyline,” Barrett said.

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If approved by HUD, the loan guarantee would be used to support construction of the estimated $122 million Couture, a 44-story luxury apartment tower, at the former Downtown Milwaukee Transit Center site southwest of Michigan Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive.

Gina Rodriguez, a spokeswoman with HUD, said securing a loan guarantee for a large market-rate new construction project such as The Couture is a two-step process.

The first step is pre-application, where HUD reviews and approves the project, resulting in HUD’s invitation to submit the Application for Firm Commitment, the second step, which Barrett has just been invited to do, Rodriguez said.

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“Although an approval of the pre-application is not HUD’s final approval, it is based on a substantive review of the transaction and an invitation to submit an Application for Firm Commitment indicates HUD’s support for the project and assessment that the project is viable,” Rodriguez said. “Assuming an Application for Firm Commitment is received that satisfactorily addresses the conditions in the pre-application invitation, HUD’s final approval, in the form of a Firm Commitment, would be issued approximately 60 days from application receipt.”

First unveiled in 2012, it took years for Barrett Lo to win a legal battle to develop the site and the firm is still trying to secure financing for the project.

In December 2017, Barrett Lo Visionary Development submitted an application for a loan guarantee for The Couture from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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HUD maintains a rigorous underwriting process, thoroughly testing every aspect of potential projects. The invitation to the Firm Commitment Application stage of the underwriting process is considered a milestone.

“This is good news for several reasons,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.  “The Couture will add vibrancy to downtown and the lakefront; it will create construction jobs for city residents and work for disadvantaged businesses; and it will add a unique transportation amenity.”

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele called the project important for downtown and for the quality of trade jobs it will bring.

“What we’re really building is a national model for transit-focused development that connects our community in an innovative way, adding another icon to the skyline, and finally bridging downtown to the lakefront in a way that will bring more activity and value to both,” Abele said.

The Couture, which is planned at 909 E. Michigan St., would have 322 high-end apartments. The project also includes 50,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space, more than 900 parking spaces and a multi-modal transit hub that will include stops for the streetcar and bus rapid transit.

In April, Rocky Marcoux, commissioner for the Department of City Development, told a city committee The Couture would break ground in October 2018.

During an interview with BizTimes in September, Rick Barrett said that obtaining financing for high-rise development in Milwaukee is very difficult, but his team is prepared to build this project.

Barrett has also been working to secure financing for the project through private investors. This summer, he also sold a site in Chicago for $9.4 million where his firm had been planning a mixed-use development. All of the money from the sale of the Chicago property will be used to help finance The Couture project, Barrett said.

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