By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published May 03, 2021 at 12:50 PM

Finally, it appears that the long-discussed Couture development, planned for the lakefront site that once housed the Downtown Transit Center, is ready to move forward.

Barrett Lo Visionary Development and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) closed on insuring a $104.7 million loan for the Couture on Friday, April 30, which means that construction can now begin, as early as this week.

The 44-story, $188 million tower – designed by Rinka – will alter the Downtown skyline and add plazas, parks, pedestrian bridges, a Hop streetcar stop and Milwaukee County Transit System bus rapid transit depot to the lakefront at Michigan, Clybourn and Lincoln Memorial Drive.

The pedestrian bridges and transit stops will hopefully help expand access to the lakefront and its festivals and make it easier for pedestrians to cross busy Lincoln Memorial Drive.

The tower will include 322 residential units and 42,837 square feet of retail space.

It will stand 516 feet, 10 inches. The neighboring U.S. Bank building is 601 feet tall and the Northwestern Mutual tower is 550 feet tall.

“We are thrilled to have closed on the site and to enable the Findorff team to begin construction work for the Couture, a transformational project for our community,” said Rick Barrett, founder and CEO of Barrett Lo Visionary Development, in a statement on Monday.

“I want to thank the Department of Housing and Urban Development,  the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and all of the partners who have worked so hard alongside us to ensure that this important project has been able to move forward.”

The project was originally announced more than seven years ago, but had been hampered by a variety of issues, including the discovery of an unmapped sewer discovered beneath the site.

Findorff is the general contractor.

According to Barrett Lo, the FHA loan is the largest that HUD has ever given in Wisconsin and the largest loan in the HUD’s Midwest region in more than 20 years.

“I want to congratulate Barrett Lo Visionary Development team and the many parties who worked hard to move this project even closer to groundbreaking,” said County Executive David Crowley. “The Couture will serve as a model for transit-oriented development that will change our skyline and our economy through an infusion of well-paying construction jobs at a time when they are needed more than ever.”

Construction is expected restart on Wednesday, starting with underground work. While it may look like the vacant site has been idle, some work – including demolition of the transit center, reconstruction of a shared wall with 833 East, sewer design and engineering and soils evaluation – has already been completed.

“Vertical” construction is expected to kick off by early next year and wrap up by autumn 2023.

Building the Couture is expected to create about 4,400 construction jobs and the completed development is estimated to bring 200 permanent jobs.

“To reach this juncture, a lot of hard work has been done by the developer and by all the government agencies involved,” said Mayor Tom Barrett in Monday’s statement.

“The Couture will add to our economy and create jobs; it will increase transportation connectivity; and it will change our skyline. The Couture is a great addition to Milwaukee.”

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.