CEO Hopes Northwestern Mutual's New Skyscraper Will Have 'Iconic' Design

Dec 18, 2012

The Milwaukee business world is still buzzing over this month's announcement that Northwestern Mutual plans to build a new skyscraper downtown and greatly expand its presence in its home city.

Northwestern Mutual will replace its old building at Cass and Mason with a new skyscraper set to be built by 2017.
Credit Jeramey Jannene

The insurance company says it will replace its 16-story building at the corner of North Cass and East Mason with a new tower of at least 30 stories. The $300-million development would bring more than a thousand permanent new jobs in addition to the hundreds of construction jobs it would generate before its estimated completion in 2017.

The company's decision to expand in Milwaukee, versus at its other campus in suburban Franklin, came after some significant financing negotiations with the City of Milwaukee. Reporters Sean Ryan and Stacy Vogel Davis follow up this month's announcement with several features in this week's Business Journal of Milwaukee.

Davis says Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett's claim that this is a "once in a generation" development has some truth to it.

"It really is the biggest building project announced since the 1970s," says Davis, who writes about the retail and banking industries. "I guess the Couture project could eclipse it in height, but when it comes to a major office building, this is the biggest news in a long long time."

Ryan says it's part of a broader effort the city has made in terms of bringing more business - and bodies - to the downtown area.

"There was all that talk earlier this year about trying to get Kohl's Corp to move its headquarters downtown," he says, "and that didn't work out. They decided to stay in Menomonee Falls, but this is probably on the scale of that in terms of keeping workers downtown and new development."

As far as designs for the new building go, Davis says Northwestern Mutual's CEO John Schlifske wants an iconic design - on par with the famous Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum.

"That says something about the Art Museum and it's commitment to art and strength," she says. "That's what they want with the new Northwestern Mutual building. Much like the existing headquarters, you have the strong pillars, it says something about their strength and stability and history. I think he wants this one to be a little more forward-thinking, in the modern age, but still saying something about the company and its presence."