Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. on Tuesday broke ground on the $450-million, 32-story Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons in downtown Milwaukee. The 1.1-million-sq-ft complex will replace a 16-story, 35-year-old facility Northwestern Mutual demolished earlier this year due to structural problems.

When completed, the complex will be Milwaukee's largest building, but not its tallest. Six-hundred-foot-high U.S. Bank Center will stand about 50 feet taller than a 700,000-sq-ft prow-shaped tower anchoring the complex. The structure will join three other buildings on Northwestern Mutual's downtown campus, sited near Lake Michigan.

Extending two blocks, the three-story, 435,500-sq-ft Commons will connect new and existing structures and include a main entry lobby, multipurpose and training spaces, a fitness center and exhibition space. The glass, steel and stone structure also will house a visitors center, cafe and outdoor dining, among other public spaces. Additional plans call for a three-acre park incorporating water features. 

Gilbane Building Co. and C.G. Schmidt Inc., both of Milwaukee, are the project's joint-venture contractors. Pickard Chilton, New Haven, Conn., is design architect. Kendall/Heaton Associates, Houston, is architect of record.

The city is providing $54 million in tax incremental financing for the project, which will preserve 1,100 downtown jobs. Northwestern Mutual anticipates creating an additional 1,900 downtown jobs by 2,030. The firm has operated in Milwaukee since 1859.   

The project will employ 1,000 workers during the construction phase, 40% of them city residents. 

The project is due for completion in the latter half of 2017. Its predecessor was dismantled floor by floor over a period of six months with a goal of recycling 75% of its materials.