"I do not see a financial role by the public in this project at all," Barrett said. "This project stands alone."
Barrett said he is confident the attractiveness of the project's lakefront location and the quality of the design will help draw several potential financing sources for the project.
It would be a significant accomplishment if Barrett can pull off the project without any subsidy because nearly all major developments in downtown Milwaukee are built with some amount of public subsidy. The most common public assistance is provided in the form of tax incremental financing (TIF) in which increased taxes property generated from the development are first used to pay off the TIF funds that the city provides for a development.
Currently Barrett is building The Moderne, a 30-story residential tower in downtown Milwaukee. That project received significant public financial support. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided a loan guarantee for a $42 million loan from the AFL-CIO Investment Trust and the city of Milwaukee provided a $9.3 million loan for The Moderne. The Moderne, which will have 203 apartments, 14 condominiums and a restaurant, is expected to be complete in September.
Public assistance is necessary for many project to help the city grow and expand its tax base, Barrett said.
"The city needs to continue to get built," he said.
The Couture, which would have 179 high-end apartments, a 180 room hotel, structured parking and retail space, is proposed for the site of the Milwaukee County Downtown Transit Center southwest of Lincoln Memorial Drive and Michigan Street. Rates for the apartments and for the hotel will be high because of the project's prime location on the lakefront. Those high rates, and the sheer density of the project, are major reasons that a subsidy will not be needed, Barrett said.
In addition, low interest rates and competitive pricing by the depressed construction industry also help keep the costs of the project down so that a subsidy is not needed, he said.
Most downtown projects that need a subsidy are not able to take advantage of a prime lakefront location, Barrett said.
"Not every property is like this," he said. "Not every project is like this."
The project could indirectly get a subsidy if the property is sold by the county to Barrett at a price that is below its true market value. The sales price of the property will be determined in negotiations between Barrett and the county.
Meanwhile, the project has already become a political football for Milwaukee County officials. County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic and Supervisor Patricia Jursik said that County Executive Chris Abele was trying to rush the project through the approval process after he made an announcement about it last week.
The county issued a request for information (RFI) from developers for the Downtown Transit Center site. In addition to Barrett, three other developers responded to the RFI: Wauwatosa-based Irgens, Wauwatosa-based Wangard Companies and Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos.
Abele's office has recommended Barrett's The Couture project and has declined to disclose information about the projects proposed by the other developers saying the information is proprietary and is still part of negotiations for the site so it is not yet available to public review under the open records law.
The County Board's Economic and Community Development Committee originally planned to review Abele's request to begin negotiations with Barrett during its meeting on Monday. But Jursik held the item off the committee agenda and expressed a desire to slow down the review process for The Couture.
"The Downtown Transit Center is the most important development site in the entire state of Wisconsin," Jursik said. "In the interest of all taxpayers, stakeholders and my constituents, I am asking for a public process for the redevelopment of this land."
However, a majority of the ECD Committee members then requested a special meeting to review The Couture project. That meeting is expected to occur on July 23. The full County Board could vote on July 26 on Abele's request to begin negotiations with Barrett. However as little as six supervisors could opt to hold the matter over until the next board meeting, which will be in September.
Abele's office is confident that most supervisors support The Couture project, said spokesman Brendan Conway. Several supervisors, including all but one member of the ECD Committee, have been briefed on all of the projects that responded to the RFI for the Downtown Transit Center, he said.
"Milwaukee County has a great opportunity to create an iconic new building on our lakefront and a grand new entrance to our downtown – while creating more than 4,400 construction jobs, 200 permanent jobs and an anticipated $2 million in tax base," said Supervisor Steve Taylor, a member of the ECD Committee. "I want to reiterate my support for moving this project forward. We must not delay the creation of these much needed jobs and tax base."
"The majority of the board is in favor of (The Couture) project," Conway said. "We know that for a fact. They have told us so."
The public will have an opportunity to comment on The Couture project at the ECD Committee meeting on July 23, and at a future ECD meeting once negotiations are complete with Abele's office and the deal is presented to supervisors for review, Conway said.