Alderman changes position, now opposes plans for Strauss Brands HQ in his district

Proposed facility would initially bring 250 jobs to Century City

Milwaukee Alderman Khalif Rainey on Friday announced that he has changed his mind about Franklin-based Strauss Brands’ plans to build a new headquarters and meat processing facility at the Century City Business Park in his district on the city’s northwest side.

Originally supportive of the Strauss Brands plans, Rainey says that, after hearing from several concerned residents, he now opposes them.

The plans, unveiled last month, include a 175,000-square-foot facility that would initially have 250 employees.

At a Common Council meeting on Tuesday, several protesters voiced objection to the plans for what they called a “slaughterhouse” at Century City. Alderman referred the proposal back to committee.

“My number one priority is to always reflect the interests and desires of those I serve,” Rainey said in his statement issued on Friday. “When (Mayor Tom Barrett’s) administration initially brought the Strauss meat processing plant proposal forward, I considered the prospect of bringing 250 jobs to Century City, with more to follow. However, in the 72-hour period since the Common Council considered the proposal, I have received an overwhelming response from neighbors in opposition to the project…In keeping true to the vision of Century City, and standing for the interests of the people in the neighborhood, I do not believe the Strauss meat processing plant is a good utilization of that space. I am listening to the voices in my community, and I expect the (Barrett) administration to do (the) same and withdraw their push for this proposal. I will also be asking the same of my colleagues, to support the will of my constituents.”

Rainey’s statement on Friday was a significant shift from comments he made Tuesday at the Common Council meeting when he questioned the motives of the protesters. During the meeting, Rainey said he didn’t recognize any of the protesters and claimed none of them were even from his neighborhood, or involved with the Century City Triangle Neighborhood Association.

Those comments drew a large reaction from the gallery, forcing Common Council president Ashanti Hamilton to strike his gavel and threaten to clear the gallery.

Rainey also noted words like “slaughter” on the signs of the protesters and as he referenced recent incidents of violence in the neighborhood, asked protesters where they were during those events.

“When you talk about trauma, PTSD, all these things exist in our community,” Rainey said Tuesday. “This is what I call select indignation.”

In his comments on Tuesday, Rainey said the root of the issue is poverty, adding that jobs generated by Strauss Brands could be the difference between a young individual choosing to hold a job over living off the streets.

Some of the protesters who stood in the Council Chamber’s gallery on Tuesday were with the organization Slaughter Free Milwaukee and Direct Action Everywhere, two grassroots networks who oppose the Strauss Brands’ plans for a Milwaukee facility. Members of the two organizations said they’ve visited the Century City and Sherman Park area neighborhood, knocked on doors and spoke with neighbors who weren’t aware of the Strauss Brands proposal.

Activists are most concerned with pollution, stench, and the impact meat processing plants can have on a worker’s mental health, according to a Slaughter Free Milwaukee press release.

After Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, Strauss Brands president and CEO Randy Strauss issued a statement saying, “Our family company, Strauss Brands, has operated in the greater Milwaukee area for more than 82 years and has a strong reputation as a good corporate citizen. Strauss Brands is proud of our reputation as one of the nation’s leading suppliers of ethically raised meats. We look forward to working with the city and the community to advance this important economic development project in Century City.”

The Century City Business Park is located south of Capitol Drive and west of Hopkins Street. A.O. Smith, and later Tower Automotive, employed thousands there years ago. After Tower ceased its operations there in 2006, the site was acquired by the city, which has spent years establishing a business park there.

Efforts to attract businesses to the site in the middle of the central city have been slow to bear fruit, but have finally gained some momentum recently with the return of Talgo to do train car overhaul operations and the addition of Good City Brewing.

Rainey said he is still a strong supporter of the city’s efforts to attract businesses to Century City.

“I have long been a supporter of the Century City development, and believe it represents an opportunity to align the city’s north side with the economic drivers of the future, not those of our past,” he said in his statement on Friday. “We will remain diligent and patient when it comes to creating a Century City that reflects the vision we as a community hope to achieve with this opportunity.”

When the Strauss brands plans were originally announced in September, Rainey was quoted in the press release saying, “Century City has always offered strong advantages for businesses, and Strauss Brands recognizes that. There is buildable land, and a good transportation network with rail and highways. The best part of Century City, though, is people – welcoming neighbors, capable workers, and a supportive group of fellow business operators.”

Protesters let aldermen know Tuesday that they oppose plans for the Strauss Brands facility in Milwaukee.
Protesters let aldermen know Tuesday that they oppose plans for the Strauss Brands facility in Milwaukee.

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Andrew Weiland
Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.