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Tall Cranes Arrive as Northwestern Mutual Begins Huge Demolition

Marti Mikkelson

In 2017, a taller building will stand in place of NML's brown building.

You may have noticed a huge construction project taking shape on the eastern edge of downtown Milwaukee. Northwestern Mutual Life is dismantling one of its buildings – the tall brown one.

The first signs of construction became visible right after the New Year. Workers fenced off the site and then began assembling scaffolding along the building.

Credit Marti Mikkelson
Construction extends onto Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee.

Last week, tall cranes arrived. Scott Wollenzien is NML’s facilities manager. He says it’ll take seven months to dismantle the 16-story building.

“It’s going to be a piece by piece type of demolition process. We’re going to start at the top and work our way down, floor by floor by floor,” Wollenzien says.

And, there’s plenty of heavy lifting to do.

“The large pieces of concrete that are up there will get torched off and ground into manageable pieces and then actually lifted from the top of the building down to the ground, where they’ll be chopped up even further,” Wollenzien says.

Wollenzien says the company plans to recycle as much debris as possible.

“The equipment you see behind us will actually do some pre-sorting of the materials. They take out some of the aluminum and copper and some of those heavier materials. The rest will go into a dumpster and then get hauled to the Waste Recycle Center where it gets recycled further,” Wollenzien says.

While crews lift and sort, excavators are digging up the street so they can move utility lines. Wollenzien says there are all sorts of challenges to dismantling a huge building in a downtown neighborhood. One - is not to disrupt neighbors or visitors.

“It’s our goal to never close any of the streets around here for any length of time, so there might be some parking lane and some temporary lane closures but our goal is not to impact the downtown area by closing any of the streets,” Wollenzien says.

The entire project – taking down the old and building new, will take three years. Wollenzien says the new office tower will be twice as big and perhaps become known as the glass building rather than the brown one. By August, the site should be flat; then construction will begin.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.