Walker signs Milwaukee shoreline bill to assist The Couture

Gov. Scott Walker earlier this week signed the Milwaukee shoreline bill, which is intended to assist The Couture development, at a ceremony this afternoon at Discovery World on the downtown Milwaukee lakefront.

The bill, approved last week by the state Senate and previously by the Assembly, would formally recognize the Milwaukee shoreline boundary that was established in 1913, by an agreement between the City of Milwaukee and the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.

The legal definition of the location of the shoreline is critical to Milwaukee County’s efforts to attract development to the Downtown Transit Center site, located southwest of Lincoln Memorial Drive and Michigan Street near the lakefront. County officials want to sell the property, currently used for bus storage, to developer Rick Barrett, who plans to build The Couture, a 44-story tower with luxury apartments, a hotel and retail space.

The Couture project would be a $180 million development that would add $10 million to the local tax base and would create 2,600 direct and indirect construction jobs, according to Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s office.

“The potential for redevelopment of the Milwaukee shoreline will stimulate the local economy and provide thousands of jobs for the City of Milwaukee and surrounding area,” Walker said. “Business leaders need stability, and this legislation gives them the certainty they need to move forward with their development plans.”

But parks advocacy group Preserve Our Parks has threatened to file a lawsuit to block The Couture project. The group says that most of the Downtown Transit Center site was originally part of the Lake Michigan lakebed and that therefore the state’s public trust doctrine forbids development there.

Preserve Our Parks has threatened to challenge the law in court and because of that threat the county has been unable to obtain title insurance for the site.

The lack of title insurance for the site has prevented the county from selling the property to Barrett, which has stalled the entire development. The county may have to file its own lawsuit to establish its development rights for the site, as some County Board Supervisors, including Pat Jursik, have said.

Despite the legislation that Walker signed into law, Preserve Our Parks board member Charlie Kamps said the group still plans to file a lawsuit to block The Couture if the county sells the property to Barrett.

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