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Parks Group Loses Round in Fight to Kill Couture Project in Milwaukee

Rinka Chung Architecture Inc.

A judge ruled in favor of Milwaukee County on Friday in its lawsuit against Preserve Our Parks. The judge determined a move by the Legislature to redraw lakebed boundaries was legal.

Preserve Our Parks had threatened to sue the County over its proposed sale of the Downtown Transit Center site to developer Rick Barrett. He wants to build the 44-story Couture tower on the property. The building would feature housing, retail and parking space – and a stop for the new streetcar.

Facing the threat of a lawsuit, the County and the City of Milwaukee swung first, this past February, suing the parks group. The County and City said the threat of a suit made it impossible to move forward with development on the property, because “no title insurance company is currently willing to issue title insurance on the property.”

At issue is whether the Transit Center is on filled lakebed. If so, it would be protected by the public trust doctrine – and would have to be maintained for public use. Preserve Our Parks argues much of the building is on filled lakebed. However, after the Couture was proposed three years ago, the Legislature approved a law declaring the original shoreline of Lake Michigan to be to the east of the building – clearing the way for the project.

Preserve Our Parks argues the Legislature’s move was unconstitutional. On Friday, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Christopher Foley indicated he believes the redrawn boundary is legitimate.

County Executive Chris Abele issued a statement applauding the judge’s decision. Abele said:

I appreciate Judge Foley's clear decision allowing the redevelopment of the underused Downtown Transit Center to move forward. The planned Couture development will create a vibrant public space that improves access to the lakefront, creates thousands of jobs and adds another signature building to Milwaukee.

The attorney for Preserve Our Parks, William O’Connor, said Friday that Preserve Our Parks will consider whether to appeal the judge’s ruling. Abele, in his statement, said if the group does appeal the ruling, he hopes it will do so, “in an expedited manner.”

Ann-Elise is WUWM's news director.
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