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Racine company aims to make a statement in Milwaukee with Cathedral Place offices.

Starting Oct. 1 approximately 100 employees of Johnson Financial Group will occupy the top floors of the Cathedral Place office tower, 555 E. Wells St.

“This for us is a little bit of a statement that we have really good roots in Milwaukee,” said President and CEO Jim Popp during a tour of the space.

The Racine-based bank is leasing 40,000 square feet across floors 18 and 19 of the office building. A bank branch will occupy the building’s first floor. Signage, which Popp said was a critical piece of the bank’s lease, will adorn multiple sides of the glass-clad building’s facade.

The financial services will relocate employees from its two downtown offices, the five-story, 17,000-square-foot building it owns at 333 E. Wisconsin Ave. and leased space at the 100 East building. Popp said he also expects some employees to come from the company’s Brookfield and Waukesha offices.

Johnson is taking over office space last occupied by law firm Husch Blackwell, which relocated last year to the newly-constructed Huron Building.

The CEO said the company has transformed the space the law firm occupied. “We didn’t take it down to the studs,” he said, but “took everything out.”

Popp said he hopes this is “what the future of office space” looks like. Designed before the pandemic took hold, there is a sizable amount of flexible meeting spaces and larger common spaces. Most of the offices feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows, but are in the interior of the space. “Everyone gets the value of the view,” said Popp of the design decision that leaves cubicles and shared spaces closer to the exterior windows.

The branch follows an industry-wide trend of smaller spaces and more automation. Unlike the bank’s legacy 6,000-square-foot branches, the new space has a small desk for just a couple employees. An ATM is available in an entry vestibule and will be available when the bank is closed, a series of small offices are available for meetings and a self-service coin machine is available inside the branch.

Private banking customers will be welcomed at the bank’s 18th-floor office. Getting off the elevator they’ll be greeted by a series of conference and small meeting rooms as well as a large lounge space that takes advantage of the oval column that protrudes from the building’s rectangular floor plate. Office space for wealth management, operations and insurance group employees fills the rest of the floor.

The 19th floor features a board room, private deck overlooking Lake Michigan and office space for the commercial banking, commercial specialty banking and commercial real estate teams as well as administrative space. That administrative space includes an office for Popp, who said he anticipates spending three days a week in Milwaukee and two in Racine. The 19th floor is only a partial floor because it also houses the building’s mechanical systems and as a result does not include any western views.

Similar to many new Class A spaces, a focus on ergonomics is visible. Every desk is motorized so it can be used as a standing desk. A number of wood design elements are interspersed, particularly in the common areas, and serve as a nod to the Racine headquarters.

Popp said he believes the space could eventually accommodate 20 additional employees. The pandemic has altered the company’s physical work schedule, with most employees currently only in the office three days a week.

The new space was designed by RINKA. The buildout was led by Redmond Construction. Furniture was provided by Duet Resource Group. CBRE negotiated the lease.

Johnson has an agreement to sell its Italianate-style building at 329-331 E. Wisconsin Ave. Built in 1867 as part of the larger Follansbee Block building, Johnson’s Cream City brick-clad portion was eventually separated. The portion to the west was redeveloped to become part of the Milwaukee Marriott Downtown a decade ago. Johnson, which has owned the building since 2000, intends to sell the building to an affiliate of Robert A. Levine, who owns much of the non-hotel portion of the block.

“It’s a cool old building, but it’s not a terribly functional building for an office building,” said Popp of the ability to subdivide the property for multiple tenants. He said an open-air, central staircase prevents leasing individual floors to different tenants.

As for the space it is vacating in the 100 East building, Johnson acquired the lease as part of its acquisition of Cleary Gull Advisors in 2016. The office tower is currently in foreclosure.

Cathedral Place is an 18-story office building (with no 13th floor) originally constructed in 2003. Much of the building is owned by Van Buren Management, while residential condominiums are included in the lower floors overlooking Cathedral Square Park.

Johnson Financial Group was founded in 1970 and reports nearly $6 billion in assets and $12 billion in assets under administration in its wealth business. The privately-held company has more than 1,200 employees and approximately three-dozen locations, primarily in southern Wisconsin.

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