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Through The Pandemic, Commercial Development Continues In Milwaukee

Construction of the now completed Northwestern Mutual building

The coronavirus pandemic has crippled many parts of Milwaukee’s economy. Businesses have had to rely on government funding and are adapting their services to safely to stay open.

But one industry that has been relatively unaffected from the pandemic has been commercial development.

Tom Daykin has been reporting on commercial development for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel since 1995 and he says many of the projects that opened in 2020 were able to survive because they were already so far along.

“The new hotels that opened in Milwaukee and the Milwaukee area in 2020 were all well under construction before the pandemic hit. So, if you’re 70%, 80% done, you’re not going to stop building,” Daykin explains.

Now that they are open, he says, they likely will join the ranks of struggling businesses as the pandemic continues to rip through Wisconsin, but the pandemic didn't stop them from completing the development.

2020 also saw new developments get off the ground. The most notable being, Daykin says, the expansion of the downtown Wisconsin Center. The plans were approved in April of 2020 and in the fall, they were able to borrow enough money through selling bonds that the $420 million prokect could move forward. The actual expanding of the convention center is expected to begin by the end of 2021 and be finished by 2024.

“That will double the space of the convention center. It’ll add over 100,000 square feet to the main exhibit hall and it will also create a second ballroom and outdoor terrace, which basically give the convention center the ability to host two events at the same time,” Daykin says.

The most surprising commercial development news, he says, was that after struggling for almost a decade with delays and funding issue, the Couture apartment skyscraper finalized its funding in 2020 — including a $103.5 million loan guarantee from the Housing and Urban Development Department.

“The Couture is to have a groundbreaking sometime during the month of January. That’ll be a 44-story building, 322 high end apartments, some restaurant and retail space, and, of course, the street level transit concourse that’ll feature the lakefront loop of the Hop,” Daykin says.

Joy Powers is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Tom Daykin has been covering commercial development at the Journal Sentinel since 1995.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.