The missing piece: Commencement of Couture construction raises hopes for improving downtown connections

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The Couture’s construction has turned attention again to two key sites around it. One is the planned Lakefront Gateway Plaza site to the east. The other is the MKE Gateway parcel to the south, at 815 E. Clybourn St. Officials have revealed grandiose plans for the sites, but not much has happened over the past few years. That’s because they were heavily reliant on The Couture being built.

City officials announced in 2015 it had selected a design team led by Milwaukee-based GRAEF-USA Inc. for the Lakefront Gateway Plaza. Since then, the team gave presentations of their plans and gathered feedback from residents, said Pat Kressin, GRAEF principal and vice president of business development. The presentations finished up in 2018. Some of the ideas it took from that period include ensuring the plaza has a regional impact, making connections with local schools and libraries and reinforcing Milwaukee as the “Fresh Coast” capital.

Kressin said the plaza has the potential “to be more than just a place.” It could provide the community with more than just another spot to gather and socialize.

Even if the ideas for the plaza are plentiful, the funding isn’t. The Lakefront Gateway Plaza project still needs to raise tens of millions of dollars.

Much like the marketing of MKE Gateway, fundraising efforts for the plaza really depended on The Couture moving forward.

“We were getting all of that stuff started, we were working with the city and the Greater Milwaukee Committee on trying to figure out a fundraising strategy,” Kressin said. “Then everyone kind of realized, without The Couture, what are we going to fundraise for?”

People needed to know The Couture was real. They needed to see shovels in the ground.

“And now, we’re there,” Kressin said. “And now that’s going to be our next step here, let’s get our fundraising campaign plan in place and start executing it.”

Kressin said he expects a major public announcement on the fundraising strategy for the Lakefront Gateway Plaza by the end of the year, and possibly by the end of the summer. Once the fundraising plan is in place, the GRAEF-led team can start detailed designs and work out agreements with Barrett Lo for the public pedestrian connections.