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Technology building shows signs of moving ahead

But city panel still wants to nail down some plan elements

Feb. 29, 2012

Regardless of city concerns about the size of signs and other planning elements, construction on the first building at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Innovation Park campus could begin in July.

Wauwatosa's Community Development Committee on Tuesday unanimously supported moving forward the technology accelerator building and site layout plans, with completion of the first building expected in spring 2013.

The building plans could go to the Common Council next week for final approval.

While deciding they did want to hold up the construction process, some CDC members were nonetheless disturbed on several as-yet unresolved plan elements.

Sign concerns

For one, committee members noted they didn't have actual dimensions for the building's signage, which they anticipate may be larger than the city's sign code allows. An exception to the code could be granted, but the committee wanted to the signage is reviewed first.

In drawings provided by Cliff Goodhart of Eppstein Uhen Architects, large letters spelling out "Innovation Accelerator" appear in the large glass windows on the first and second levels of the building. There is also a large monument sign that keeps with the sign system of the UWM campus.

Goodhart said he didn't look at the vinyl lettering as signage because it was "subtle and changeable." He designed the signage for the building, not necessarily to meet codes, he said.

The letters won't be etched in glass so they could be removed if city officials find them hideous, Alderman Bobby Pantuso said.

"I like it personally," he said. "You'll be able to see that from an airplane. For the first building it sends a statement. It's bold."

Alderman Don Birschel likened the sign to the one at the top of Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, which is extremely large so it can be seen from the freeway. From that perspective UWM's signage will be easy to read and won't seem out of place in the area as long as it's set back a ways from Watertown Plank Road, he said.

Uncertain planning

But Aldermen Jeff Roznowski and Linda Nikcevich had a problem approving anything without specific plans. Just granting an exception could leave the door open for anything and set precedent for the rest of the campus development, they said.

Aside from the sign issue, committee members were also frustrated that they were being asked to support development on the campus at a point when a developer's agreement has yet to be finalized. Among the other issues that are still outstanding is a landscaping plan for the entire project.

Alderman Jason Wilke, a landscape architect, wanted to see more native plants installed at the site because preservation has been such a big theme of the greater project approval.

He also questioned why the building's design didn't seem to reference any other architectural styles in the area.

"The client wanted forward-looking that really expressed research and development," Goodhart said.

The glass lobby makes a bold statement as progressive and modern while the rest of the building uses traditional building materials, and the cream-colored brick is where the connection is made to other buildings, he said.

The plans also incorporate sustainable features such as solar panels and green roof elements.

Next step

WHAT: Common Council vote on the technology accelerator building and site plans, the first for the UWM Innovation Park campus

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

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