Aldermen approve incentive deal that will bring Milwaukee Tool to downtown Milwaukee

City will provide up to $20 million for as many as 2,000 new jobs

Rendering: Stephen Perry Smith Architects
Rendering: Stephen Perry Smith Architects

Last updated on May 5th, 2021 at 01:17 pm

Milwaukee aldermen have unanimously approved the incentive deal facilitating the expansion of Milwaukee Tool into a vacant downtown building.

The Brookfield-based tool maker plans to take over the former Assurant building at 501 W. Michigan St. It could eventually have up to 2,000 employees working there. A deal between the city and Milwaukee Tool will provide up to $20 million for building renovations and a possible expansion.

Under the terms of that agreement, the city will provide an initial $12.1 million cash grant for building renovations if the company brings at least 1,210 jobs to the city. Another $7.9 million could support a future building expansion, and the company would in turn bring another 790 employees to the downtown office.

Milwaukee Tool will move one of its business divisions into the building and plans to have hundreds of jobs there by October, Ty Staviski, Milwaukee Tool chief financial officer, said at recent public hearings.

“By extending our corporate presence into downtown Milwaukee, we are poised for continued growth,” Steve Richman, Milwaukee Tool Group president, said in a statement. “As one of the largest employers in southeastern Wisconsin, we’re thrilled to expand our presence in the city, as we continue to attract, retain and recruit from a diverse pool of local talent.”

Milwaukee Tool will invest more than $30 million in the 350,000-square-foot building, including the purchase and renovations, according to a news release. The potential expansion would total around 150,000 square feet.

The deal was framed as a generational deal by its supporters, but was criticized by some labor leaders and Common Council members.

At previous public hearings, some argued the deal should include benefit guarantees and other protections for service-sector workers at the building, including benefits and job protections. This would go beyond the $15 an hour minimum wage commitment by Milwaukee Tool. Others held up the deal as an example of the rift between the Common Council and the mayor’s office and Department of City Development when it comes to deal-making.

None of those concerns were voiced during the Common Council meeting on Tuesday morning. The Council unanimously approved the proposal at the same time as a list of other items sent to it by the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee. It did not take up the item separately.

It will next head to Mayor Tom Barrett’s desk. He has already voiced his support for the proposal.

Last week’s marathon ZND Committee meeting included more than four hours of discussion on the Milwaukee Tool project.

At that meeting, Alderwoman Milele Coggs said the discussion touched on longstanding issues the Common Council has with the Department of City Development. Council members say they are shut out from discussions until the last stages, when they’re asked to approve the framework that DCD staff already worked out with companies or developers.

The discussion also led Coggs to introduce legislation that would add a community investment requirement to downtown projects receiving city assistance.

Barrett argued the city should not miss on an opportunity for potentially thousands of new jobs in the city’s downtown.

“I’d be willing to wager that probably over the last half century, this might be the largest one-time infusion of jobs that we have seen,” he said at the ZND Committee hearing.

Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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