It has been just over five years since Johnson Controls merged with Tyco International and moved its headquarters from Milwaukee to Cork, Ireland.
Johnson Controls began in Milwaukee in the late 19th century and has been a staple in the city’s business scene over the past three centuries. The company first got its start from the invention of the thermostat and the ability to control temperature inside buildings, their business has expanded to include many facets over the years, including car batteries, parts for oil and gas mining and cyber security.
But the company has announced plans to leave its downtown Milwaukee complex at 507 E. Michigan St. and consolidate all Milwaukee-area employees into their Glendale campus.
Johnson Controls currently owns seven buildings downtown that house 1,300 employees. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel commercial development reporter Tom Daykin says those buildings becoming available means opportunity for change in downtown.
“Once they sell these buildings, Johnson Controls will lease them back for up to two years as it moves its operations from downtown to Glendale, so it’s not like they’re going to leave immediately. But eventually those buildings are going to be available for new uses and I suspect office is not the highest and best use for those properties,” he says.
Daykin says that downtown Milwaukee already has a surplus of available office space and with the pandemic changing how companies look at how much office space they need as working from home becomes more common, the market is only going to have a larger surplus.
“I would not be surprised if at least a portion of those buildings are converted to residential uses, we seem to have strong demand for housing, apartments — particularly higher end apartments throughout the downtown area,” he says.
The conversion could happen through a mix of repurposing and tearing down. Daykin says that more historic buildings, of which Johnson Controls owns at least one building that dates back to the 1890s, have lately been purchased and repurposed into residential or other uses. But that less historic or smaller buildings could be targets for tearing down and building a completely new structure.