Northwestern Mutual Plans $500M Renovation of Downtown Milwaukee Headquarters Campus

by John Nelson

MILWAUKEE — Northwestern Mutual, an American financial services and insurance organization, has announced plans to invest $500 million to improve its downtown Milwaukee headquarters. The principal part of the investment will go to the overhaul of its North Office Building, a 540,000-square-foot building located at 818 E. Mason St. overlooking Milwaukee Bay.

As part of the company’s plans, employees will be relocated from Northwestern Mutual’s suburban campus in nearby Franklin over the next three to five years. Nearly 2,000 employees will transition to the reimagined downtown campus, which is designed to accommodate planned company growth.

“We are doubling down on our Milwaukee campus by investing in the future of the workplace for Northwestern Mutual and a thriving downtown community,” says John Schlifske, chairman, president and CEO of Northwestern Mutual. “Our strategic investment will further our goal of creating an unparalleled campus experience, fostering connection and collaboration across employees, financial representatives and the community while attracting and retaining the next generation of talent right here in southeast Wisconsin.”

Northwestern Mutual’s improvements include full interior and exterior renovations to mirror the company’s adjacent Tower and Commons building. The North Office Building was delivered in 1990 whereas Tower and Commons debuted in 2017.

The investment will bring cohesion to the office campus as the towers will have new connecting structures and a pedestrian plaza along Cass Street. Plans call for the elimination of automobile traffic on a portion of North Cass Street between East Mason and East Wells streets.

“We will extend that same experience to all our employees by aligning our North Office Building to the Tower and Commons experience,” says Schlifske.

Pending City of Milwaukee approvals, construction could begin as early as this fall, with potential occupancy in 2027.

“Northwestern Mutual is an incredible community partner and their investment in Milwaukee will signal to the state, region and nation that Milwaukee is the place to do business,” says Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson. “Their wide-ranging investments in our city have [moved] — and will continue to move — Milwaukee forward.”

According to Johnson, as with the Tower and Commons project, the City of Milwaukee has proposed a tax increment financing (TIF) plan to facilitate the renovations. Rather than have the city borrow money to finance the plan, the proposed financing would be structured as a developer-funded tax incremental district (TID). Under this method, Northwestern Mutual will initially pay for all the costs of the project.

Some of the stipulations of the TID repayments to Northwestern Mutual include an occupancy agreement where the company commits to having no fewer than 5,375 employees assigned to its downtown campus upon completion of the project, as well as no fewer than 5,750 employees assigned to the downtown campus by Jan. 1, 2030 and for the duration of the term of the TID. Other contingencies include using small business enterprises (SBEs) and unemployed/underemployed citizens for the construction process and to continue investing in the Milwaukee community via the Northwestern Mutual Foundation.

Northwestern Mutual provides life, disability income and long-term care insurance, annuities and wealth and investment management services for nearly 5 million clients. The firm manages more than $561 billion in combined company and client assets, $34 billion in revenues and $2.1 trillion worth of life insurance protection.

— John Nelson

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