Barrett is doing something no other Milwaukee developer has ever done.
He’s building a high-rise development in downtown Chicago.
exciting,’" says Barrett of the Blanc, a mixed-use luxury
midrise that will be constructed on the corner of Ontario and Wells
streets. "Milwaukee developers typically don’t go south."
It used to be
that when Milwaukee wanted a signature downtown development, city
officials felt the need to bring in nationally renowned architects and
developers. (The Calatrava, the US Bank building and the University
Club Tower all were built by outsiders.) "Everybody says you have
to get someone from Chicago or New York to design a great project in
Milwaukee. I don’t believe that’s true," Barrett says.
Barrett, then a relatively unknown Milwaukee-based developer, proposed
a 30-story residential high-rise in Milwaukee’s struggling Park East
his sights on the Park East corridor, Barrett had focused his
development projects in Milwaukee’s Beerline neighborhood — a
former industrial corridor located along the Milwaukee River that
stretches from Pleasant Street to Humboldt Avenue. There he built
several luxury condo and townhome projects, including the Rivercourt
Condominiums and the Park Terrace Row Houses. "Rick is young, but
he’s not new to the Milwaukee development scene," says Rocky
Marcoux, commissioner for Milwaukee’s Department of City
and his team at Barrett Visionary helped transform the Beerline
neighborhood from a neglected industrial corridor to a humming
community defined by distinctive residences, it was a stretch for his
firm to propose a high-profile residential development in another much
debated area of the city. "People thought I was crazy; that I was
too ambitious," Barrett recalls.
skepticism, Barrett pushed forward. "It’s something I’ve
always had a great desire to do," says the Glendale native.
"Macro developments on a small footprint are a time-tested
convention in the core of downtowns."
Growing up in
the North Shore, Barrett remembers thinking of Milwaukee as a rust
belt city. Yet even after heading to California for college and then
Maryland to play professional baseball, Barrett always yearned to
return to the Midwest.
here are much more real," says Barrett.
After four years
playing in the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system, Barrett came back to
Milwaukee and finished his education at Marquette University, earning
a business degree in 1995. After graduating, Barrett started a real
estate holding company, buying and selling parcels of property around
Wisconsin. Developing mixed-use properties seemed like a natural
progression, and after some initial success, Barrett ventured into
fortunate the way it happened," says Barrett, who lives on
Milwaukee’s west side with his wife, Maggie, and their four
condo projects along Commerce Street, the vacant land west of the
Milwaukee River kept beckoning to Barrett. "I spend a lot of time
dreaming about what can be done in the Park East area," he says.
"It will be a vital area of the city."
When he first
proposed The Moderne at the corner of Juneau Avenue and Old World
Third Street in 2007, the project was to include a 120-room hotel and
10 floors of condo units. Then the housing market imploded in 2008.
Plans for a hotel were scrapped and most of the condos were replaced
with high-end apartments. "Getting financing for The Moderne was
a 24/7 job," Barrett says. "We were right in the middle of
the buzz saw of what turned out to be the worst recession since the
financial challenges and project setbacks, Barrett remained determined
to move forward on the 30-story high-rise. In 2009, he secured
financing in the form of a $41.4 million loan from the AFL-CIO Housing
Investment Trust. The city of Milwaukee loaned Barrett another $9.3
million. Barrett and his business partner, investor Tan Lo, put up the
remaining $4.3 million in equity capital.
The Moderne finally began in late 2010 and the first tenants began
moving into the building last August. Barrett also announced last
spring that Carson’s, a Chicago-based rib-and-steak restaurant, had
leased the entire 8,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground
floor of The Moderne. The restaurant is expected to open in April.
Today, the once
controversial residential high-rise is being hailed as a catalytic
project for the Park East corridor. Marcoux says The Moderne has
spurred significant development interest in an area that previously
hadn’t been attracting much attention. "I think Rick has gained
a lot of well-deserved praise," Marcoux says. "He strongly
believes that Milwaukee has tremendous potential."
While it might
be tempting to sit back and enjoy the accolades he’s earned for The
Moderne, Barrett isn’t one to rest on his laurels. Last summer, he
won support from city and county officials to build The Couture, a
44-story hotel and residential tower, on the site of the Downtown
Transit Center on Milwaukee’s lakefront. "The transit center
site called out for a beautiful piece of architecture, and The Couture
feels like it fits there," Marcoux says. "It will put the
city on the map for the 21st century."
still in negotiations with Milwaukee County to buy the property,
Barrett believes the parties will come to an agreement in the next
month or two. "We’re looking to start construction in
2014," he says.
Perhaps the most
exciting aspect of The Couture for Barrett is the opportunity to
re-team with architect Matt Rinka. The principal of Milwaukee-based
Rinka Chung Architecture, Rinka also designed The Moderne. "He
has supreme architectural talent," Barrett says. "For two
guys from Milwaukee to be up for national design awards is pretty
Rinka has equal
admiration for Barrett, who shares his passion for great urban design
and Milwaukee. "Rick has a strong vision for the future of
Milwaukee," Rinka says. "I’m proud to be a part of
The Couture will help spark a renaissance for an area of downtown
Milwaukee that currently lacks vitality. He envisions a vibrant retail
and cultural corridor springing up along Clybourn Street. "We
want people to realize that Milwaukee is a cool place and want to come
back," Barrett says. "That’s the job of a developer."