By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 02, 2023 at 12:02 PM

In a move that will change the look – literally – of Downtown Milwaukee, Northwestern Mutual announced plans Thursday to transition nearly 2,000 employees from its Franklin campus to its Downtown site across the next four years.

Northwestern Mutual
A skyline rendering showing the new exterior aspect of the North Tower. (PHOTO: Northwestern Mutual)

The company will also spend more than a half a billion dollars Downtown to “reimagine” its campus at the eastern end of Wisconsin Avenue and Mason Street, giving its 1990 North Tower an entirely new look.

The plan – which is contingent on City of Milwaukee approval of a TIF plan – would transform the grey and rather grim 540,000-square-foot building’s exterior to mirror its taller 2017 sibling across the street.

The 395-foot-tall building was designed by Madison-based Flad Architects.

north tower
The North Tower as it appears now.

Northwestern Mutual is proposing closing a portion of Cass Street between Mason and Wells to vehicles to create a pedestrian plaza at the corner of Mason and Cass as part of the project.

Interior renovations would help accommodate the expanded workforce.

Bringing another 2,000 workers to Downtown Milwaukee on a regular basis would also surely boost retail, dining and other businesses in the area.

"We are doubling down on our Milwaukee campus by investing in the future of the workplace for Northwestern Mutual and a thriving downtown community," said Northwestern Mutual Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer John Schlifske in a statement released Thursday morning.

"We are expanding our world-class campus so that our teams can best serve our clients and policyowners in helping them achieve financial security by protecting what they've already built and creating future prosperity.

"Our strategic investment will further our goal of creating an unparalleled campus experience, fostering connection and collaboration across employees, financial representatives and the community while attracting and retaining the next generation of talent right here in southeast Wisconsin."

If the plan is approved by the city, construction on the project could begin this year.

"Northwestern Mutual has proven time and again that they are committed to our City," said Milwaukee Common Council President José Pérez in Thursday’s announcement.

"Their growth, success and investment in Milwaukee benefits our entire community."

Initial renderings have been created, the announcement noted, but “more detailed designs” are in the works and are expected by mid-2023.

According to the company, which has been located in the city for 165 years, it is the largest property taxpayer in the City of Milwaukee.

The Franklin campus – which comprises two buildings with nearly 900,000 square feet of office space – has been owned by Northwestern Mutual for more than 20 years. Since employees will be transitioning over a number of years, the company says it has no immediate plans to sell or lease out the buildings.

"Northwestern Mutual is an incredible community partner and their investment in Milwaukee will signal to the state, region and nation that Milwaukee is the place to do business," said Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson in Thursday’s statement.

"To complement Northwestern Mutual's investment, the city is advancing a financing tool that adds value without imposing a burden on city taxpayers. Over the long run, the city's participation adds tax base and economic strength to Milwaukee."

"Their wide-ranging investments in our city have – and will continue – to move Milwaukee forward."

The 550-foot Tower and Commons project was designed by Pickard Chilton, which is also doing the work to redesign the shorter tower to resemble it.

"Our decision to build the Tower and Commons downtown made a huge statement about metro Milwaukee's attractiveness as a place to live and work and created job opportunities for our broader community that continue to have a ripple effect to this day," said Schlifske.

"We believe in Milwaukee – which has been our hometown for nearly all of our 165-plus year history – which is why we were up to the challenge to ensure we met and exceeded the bold hiring goals advanced with the City."

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.