Barrett urges aldermen to approve Milwaukee Tool incentive plan

Several business leaders also back project

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

Last updated on April 26th, 2021 at 11:13 am

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is urging members of the Common Council to approve up to $20 million in city incentives for Milwaukee Tool’s planned expansion into downtown.

The plan has also received the backing of several local business leaders, but has drawn criticism from some labor groups.

Brookfield-based Milwaukee Tool plans to take over the vacant office building at 501 W. Michigan St. as the new home of one of its business divisions. The city has proposed a series of grants to facilitate Milwaukee Tool’s redevelopment of the building.

In turn, Milwaukee Tool has promised to bring at least 1,200 jobs to the city, possibly up to 2,000. It has also agreed to a $15 an hour minimum wage for all workers at the building, including roughly 20 contracted service workers.

“I strongly encourage you to move the Milwaukee Tool project forward without delay,” Barrett wrote in a letter to the Common Council. He sent out the letter today.

The Milwaukee Tool project came under fire at a recent public hearing on the proposed incentive plan. Local labor union workers and members attended the meeting and argued that Milwaukee Tool should also guarantee that the service workers receive benefits and job protections. Some also questioned whether Milwaukee Tool, which is experiencing immense growth, requires a public subsidy to finance the project.

They were affiliated with the Service Employees International Union Local 1 and Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization.

Barrett said the Milwaukee Tool expansion would benefit the entire city by bringing in jobs with family supporting wages and investing in the Westown neighborhood, an area of downtown he said is in need of the investment.

His letter of support for the Milwaukee Tool deal closely follows one sent to the Common Council by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. It was signed by a number of leaders of Milwaukee companies and organizations, including Marcus Corp., ManpowerGroup, Northwestern Mutual and others.

“We applaud the effort by the city to partner with Milwaukee Tool to spur development and bring up to 2,000 high quality jobs to our city center,” the letter states. “As substantial stakeholders, we see multiple benefits to this investment partnership.”

The city is looking to establish a new tax incremental financing district, which would provide incentives to the company.

Under the terms of a development agreement, the city would give an initial $12.1 million grant for building renovations. In turn, Milwaukee Tool is committed to employing at least 1,210 employees there in six years.

Milwaukee Tool could receive another $7.9 million grant if it expands the office to make room for another 790 employees.

The deal was unanimously endorsed last week by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee. It still needs Common Council approval.

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Alex Zank covers commercial and residential real estate for BizTimes. Alex previously worked for Farm Equipment magazine and also covered statewide construction news at The Daily Reporter. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism, political science and economics. Having grown up in rural western Wisconsin, Alex loves all things outdoors, including camping, hiking, four-wheeling and hunting.

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