Von Briesen could make HQ decision by autumn

Randall Crocker, the president and chief executive officer of Von Briesen & Roper S.C., a downtown Milwaukee law firm which is considering a relocation of its corporate headquarters, said he hopes to have a decision by this fall about the company’s future office space plans.
The firm has received several responses to a request for proposals that it issued last fall for downtown office space. Crocker declined to reveal who responded to the RFP, but said the respondents included developers of proposed new buildings and owners of existing buildings.
“There appear to be a number of very palatable options for us,” he said. “We are very pleased with the response to our RFP.”
Some of the most commonly mentioned downtown office building proposals that are in the works includes a project by Hammes Co. next to the U.S. Bank Center at 777 E. Wisconsin Ave., a project by Irgens Development Partners next to the Milwaukee Athletic Club and a project by MLG Development in the Park East corridor.
Van Briesen is working with Terence McMahon of The Boerke Company in evaluating its future office space plans. The firm is committed to staying in downtown Milwaukee, Crocker said.
“We’re wading through our options,” he said. “We have not ruled out any opportunities. There are existing buildings that could be attractive to us.”
Currently, Von Briesen occupies about 65,000 square feet of space in the 411 Building at 411 E. Wisconsin Ave. in downtown Milwaukee. The firm is seeking about 75,000 square feet of space with an option to grow into additional space in the future.
It may ultimately decide to stay in the 411 Building. However, Crocker has indicated that the firm would prefer to relocate because it shares the building with one of its competitors, Quarles & Brady, which has a sign on top of the building.
Some office brokers in Milwaukee, including Steve Palec of CB Richard Ellis and Dan Wroblewski of Inland Companies, have speculated that a new office tower could break ground this year, or in early 2011, because the downtown class A office space vacancy rate is low, between 8.5 and 10.5 percent.
A handful of potential anchor tenants are in the market for downtown office space, brokers say. Von Briesen has been perhaps the most public about its considerations of a new downtown office location.
Another potential anchor tenant is Godfrey & Kahn S.C., currently located in the M&I Bank corporate headquarters at 780 N. Water St. The firm is out of room to expand and will eventually need to move out of the building, said managing partner Rick Bliss. The firm needs about 90,000 square feet of space.
“At some point we are going to need to be moving to another site so we are interested in hearing about opportunities that are out there,” Bliss said. “Our business is growing and at some point it is just going to make sense to be in a building that has more flexibility. We are out of space. We’d be very pleased if a new office building was erected downtown.”
Denver-based engineering and construction firm CH2M HILL is exploring the entire metro area, including downtown, for a possible relocation of its Milwaukee office, said vice president and area manager Allan Erickson. The company, which has 190 Wisconsin employees, is currently located at 135 S. 84th St., Milwaukee. Its lease at that location expires this year, Erickson said.
Crocker said Von Briesen will evaluate the viability of the proposed downtown office building developments.
“If there’s a viable project that meets our needs, we’d love to be apart of it,” he said.
The capital markets are extremely tight for commercial real estate development right now, which makes some in the industry doubt that a developer could obtain financing to build a new office building, even with an anchor tenant.
However, Crocker said he is confident a new development could get financing if it is well conceived.
“I’m not hearing that (financing) is a problem at all,” he said. “The right package will attract the right commercial lender and investors. I think there’s a lot of money available for good deals.”

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