As was reported in the AIA Architectural Billings Indices last week, design activity in the Midwest is fairly robust,,,for the moment. I was able to check out Milwaukee and Chicago for myself and co-tower crane geek Bill Schmalzel reported from Minneapolis/St. Paul. We can confirm that those cities are busy and for subtly different reasons.
Milwaukee was slower the last time I was there, with only one tower crane in action. This time around, there were seven in action. Four (two at each project) were on multi-family projects, while one was on a hotel project strategically across the street from Fiserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks. The last two are on a large expansion of the Milwaukee Convention Center. While I am no means an expert on Milwaukee, I would consider all of these projects within the urban core of the city. This is different from Seattle (reported last month) and Chicago (see below) where most of the current construction is outside the core downtown area. My unsubstantiated hunch is that when construction moves outside the city core, it signals a topping in the market (or near topping) as developers move to less expensive land to build upon (the run-up in Sacramento is oftentimes an indicator that San Francisco is topping out and Sacramento is currently busy). Milwaukee doesn’t seem to be there yet, with the Couture project (#1 below) being built on what seems to be prime real estate. I threw in a pic of a project with two mobile cranes for kicks and another of some street art I found cool.
The convention center expansion is particularly impressive with the amount of activity currently happening. Check out the sea gull buzzing the towers! BTW, I love the streamline moderne architecture of the UW Milwaukee Panther (fromerly The Mecca) arena acraoss the street,
My wife and I traveled the 1.5 hours from Milwaukee to Chicago via train. As we entered the city, I saw a lot of construction activity, but it seemed way outside the city core. It turned out to be the West Loop, and I’ll focus specifically on that later in this post. The downtown core near the river was very quiet and much different from when I was in Chicago several years ago. That said, there was plenty of multi-family housing under construction, some of which is funded by Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-backed financing, giving the clue that it might be subsidized housing. Those projects (six total with seven tower cranes) are located in the map below and followed by site pictures.
I threw in a couple of bonus pix below that warrant discussion. First, check out the hoist at the 720 South Wells Street project below. While taking the Architectural boat tour (my third time, my daughter’s second. I highly recommend!), we concluded that materials are being delivered on barges. Seems pretty smart given that the other side of the building is Wacker Street which seems perpetually jammed with traffic.
Next, I had to throw in the obligatory picture of Wrigley Field, which is undergoing an expansion. My daughter and I had to check it out (she’s a construction management student at Boise State, so she also has the bug) before we went to see the Zac Brown Band for my wife’s birthday.
Moving on to the West Loop area. It. Was. Booming! The West Loop strikes me as the neighborhood my oldest daughter would love to live in, as would I but it would reveal my thirsty nature to come across as young. There were a lot of younger-looking adults walking around with doodle-bred dogs heading to yoga classes or fancy brunches. There happens to be a large Google office in the neighborhood, so you can probably picture the multi-cultural/high disposable income demographic of the neighborhood. Seriously, those are my spirit animals.
The construction looks overwhelmingly multi-family and commercial office (which Captain Obvious tells me is oftentimes the case when tower cranes are near and there’s a housing crunch). There are astonishingly nine tower cranes in this neighborhood right now.
Author's note if you are curious about the order of the pix, that's the route I took when running my routes through Milwaukee and Chicago. I catch a lot less ridicule if I tell people I'm going for a run as opposed to going to look at cranes. Plus I get to burn off all the Midwestern food I gorged on throughout the trip.
Lastly, Bill Schmalzel came in from the bullpen to give an update on Minneapolis/St. Paul. He’s a fellow tower crane/construction fan and he happened to be in the Midwest approximately when I was. He provided the three pictures below and the approximate locations. I have never been to MSP (it is definitely on my list and I hope to get there soon), so I hope I don't butcher the location/descriptions.
Bridge rehabilitation just upstream from St. Anthony's Falls.
Two luffers on a multi-family project new the Minnesota Twins baseball park.
Multi-family project in St, Paul close to the 1925 Ford Model T plant and very close to the Mississippi River.
Bill is so hard core he has sent me pix from Italy! I love it and he was the first person to do so. Now I get pix from friends and family all over the country. Keep them coming!
I have visited Seattle four times since 2019 and I have been constantly awed by the number of tower cranes I viewed. So it shocked me that when I searched the annals of this blog, this is the first specific post I have made regarding Seattle. Until just recently, Seattle was the undisputed heavyweight champion in terms of number of tower cranes in the United States (Toronto's response: "hold my beer"), only having recently been usurped by Los Angeles. This is a serious dereliction of my duties and I sincerely apologize.
I will get to my most recent trip to Seattle on June 10-12, 2022 in a moment, yet let's set the scene by discussing my trip in November 2019. Those were quaint times...we visited my nephew Max at Seattle University and went to Husky Stadium on the campus of the University of Washington (the most beautiful athletics venue in the country in my humble opinion). This was pre-COVID and the the construction world was on fire with Seattle being the blue center of the flame. It seemed like every downtown corner had a tower crane on it, with the Washington State Convention Center being the centerpiece of the renaissance. It was truly unbelievable. Since then, we have (largely) emerged from the COVID shutdowns and the convention center is almost complete, yet it is still unbelievably busy in Seattle. The major change from my pedestrian point of view is that downtown is cooling and the building is moving to the periphery of the city. Don't get me wrong...downtown is still a beehive of activity, yet the action is radiating outward. This is a natural progression as a market tops out and developers start looking for less expensive land and demand extends outside of the expensive city core. Given those dynamics, I am going to split the pictures below into groups of neighborhoods:
Let's start with my favorite stop. This will be the Seattle Aquarium Oceanfront Center, on the site of the former elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct. There was a mammoth concrete pour going on this day. Turner is the general contractor (GC).
This picture was taken from a distance and the site is in the Pioneer Destrict neighborhood. The homes of the Seahawks and Mariner are in the background.
The last of the tower cranes at the Washington State Convention Center site. Lease Crutcher Lewis is the GC on this project.
3rd Street and Virginia Street. BuildGroup is the GC.
Four miscellaneous downtown tower crane pictures.
8th Avenue and Columbia Street. The GC is Anderson Structures. In a twist of fate, I met a soon-to-be superintendent on this project at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Superintendent Training Program (I'm talking about you Dakota!).
A Hail Mary long distance pic at 8th Avenue and Dearborn Avenue. If you squint, you can see the original Rainier Beer factory in the background. My grandfather drank Vitamin R (if you know, you know).
Yesler Way at South Washington Street. You can see Smith Tower (left) and Columbia Towetr (center) in the background.
622 Rainier Avenue.
Triple play at Yesler Way and 12th Avenue.
Pride Place at 1519 Broadway. Walsh Construction is the GC.
Boyleston and Spring Streets. Turner is the GC.
Somewhere in the Seattle Central District neighborhood. The cylindrical building is the Alhadeff Santuary(?). The picture was taken from a parking structure on the Serattle University campus.
Somewhere in Capitol Hill. I need to take better notes...
SOUTH LAKE UNION
Double play at rhe intersection of Taylor and Thomas Streets. Both tower cranes have Seattle Kraken signage. Interestingly (to me anyway), the hotel across the street is the ugliest building I have seen in a very long time.
228 Dexter Street.
400 Westlake Street. The base of this building is the saved remements of a Firestone Tire Center which is a cool preservation project.
412 1st Avenue North in Lower Queen Anne neighborhood, right across the street from the Climate Pledge Arena. By the way, the chocolate chip cookie at the Metropolitan Market a few blocks away live up to the hype.
Southern end of the Westlake neighborhood. This was the most disorganized project site I saw.
long shot photo of a luffer in the southern part of the Eastlake neighborhood (southest corner of Lake Union).
Random project between Seatac and downtown. If you go to Seattle, lightrail is a good bet to beat the horrible traffic. You're welcome.
Those are the cranes I saw with my own eyes. I'm sure there's more in the area given that there are some major Microsoft and Amazon projects in Bellevue and cranes visible at the University of Washington. That said, this should give some indication of the crazy level of construction going on in Seattle. Up next: rolling through the Midwest.
This page is dedicated to the stuff I love and, for no defensible reason, want to share with the world. Enjoy!