December 05. 2012 9:00AM - Last modified: December 05. 2012 9:55AM

Quarles & Brady could anchor Washington Square

Downtown Milwaukee law firm Quarles & Brady LLP is considering plans to move its offices from the 411 Building to developer Joel Lee's long-proposed Washington Square development, according to several commercial real estate sources.

Earlier this year Quarles & Brady managing partner Ann Murphy said that the firm had issued an RFP to several office developers for about 150,000 to 175,000 square feet of downtown office space. The firm currently occupies about 186,000 square feet of office space in the 411 Building at 411 E. Wisconsin Ave., where it has been located since 1986. The firm's lease in the 411 Building expires in 2015.

Several sources say that Quarles & Brady has narrowed its options down to staying put in the 411 Building or moving to the Washington Square project.

However, a spokesperson for Quarles & Brady said several office space options are being considered for the firm.

"We're exploring numerous options at this point," said Quarles & Brady marketing communications director Debi Miller. "There are several. It's not just that one."

Lee said he has had discussions with Quarles & Brady, but said no deal is in place and he downplayed the progress of the negotiations with the law firm and the status of the development.

"It's just talk," Lee said. "There are a half a dozen tenants that anybody that wants to do a building is in negotiations with. Everybody's got the same situation. We've got a site and we have to put together a concentration of tenants to get financing."

Washington Square is a proposed office tower that would be built on a vacant lot southeast of Mason and Jefferson streets, just east of the Pfister Hotel.

Another developer, Doug Weas of Weas Development, responded to the Quarles & Brady RFP and pitched an office building project for a site southeast of Broadway and Michigan Street. But Weas has been out of the running for the Quarles deal for quite awhile, another source said. Weas could not be reached for comment.

In recent years several law firms in downtown Milwaukee have considered moves to new buildings only to end up renegotiating new leases in their existing building.

"Eighty percent of these tenants stay where they are," Lee said. "The owners see where the market is at and they reduce their rent."

Last year downtown Milwaukee law firm Godfrey & Kahn announced that it had signed a lease to move to Washington Square and accounting firm Baker Tilly Virchow Krause said it had signed a letter of intent to move to Washington Square. But when the development did not immediately move forward Baker Tilly backed out and decided to relocate to the U.S. Bank Center at 777 E. Wisconsin Ave. instead. Lee and Wauwatosa-based Irgens ended their joint venture for the Washington Square project and Irgens proposed a new office building at 833 E. Michigan St., which would be anchored by Godfrey & Kahn.

Lee has formed a new joint venture for the Washington Square project with Minneapolis-based Ryan Companies.