A committee of Milwaukee aldermen has endorsed a city incentive plan to Milwaukee Tool for its planned expansion into downtown.
The Common Council's Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee approved a $20.2 million incentive package on Tuesday. The vote came after a roughly four-hour hearing that at times turned into a larger debate of Common Council input in city deal-making, the overall vision for downtown Milwaukee and how its successes can be shared with other neighborhoods.
Milwaukee Tool plans to take over and renovate the former Assurant building at 501 W. Michigan St. It could bring up to 2,000 employees there. It will have hundreds of jobs in the building by October, said Ty Staviski, Milwaukee Tool's chief financial officer.
The city is proposing an initial $12.1 million cash grant if the company brings at least 1,210 jobs to the city. Another $7.9 million grant could support a building expansion, and the company would in turn bring another 790 employees to the downtown office.
Factoring in $200,000 in administrative expenses, the city's total expenditures on the deal reaches $20.2 million. It would be paid for with tax incremental financing.
The deal was criticized by labor leaders and an alderman. They argued a $15 minimum wage commitment tied to the deal should also include worker benefits and protections.
Common Council members also questioned Milwaukee Tool on a variety of topics, such as employment opportunities for city residents, diversity and inclusion initiatives, neighborhood displacement and gentrification, and more.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett made a rare appearance before the committee to back the proposal.
"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," Barrett said, adding this is certainly the case reaching back at least 20 years. "That's the opportunity that's sitting right before us, right now. I don't want us to miss it."
Alderman Robert Bauman, who represents the downtown area, said the city's development agreement with Milwaukee Tool should require the company to establish a community benefits agreement for service-sector employees working at the office. Such an agreement would be similar to what the Milwaukee Bucks agreed to for service workers at Fiserv Forum. This action would be in accordance with the Community-Oriented Responsible and Equitable (CORE) resolution passed by aldermen and signed by Barrett in 2019.
Also at issue was a change to the agreement proposed by Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, which added more reporting requirements of Milwaukee Tool. Milwaukee Tool was already required to report to the city the number of jobs it had created downtown on a regular basis. Dimitrijevic's amendment added the reporting to include other information, such as the race, gender and residency of those employees, plus the wages of service-sector employees contracted to work at the building.
The amendment received the committee's backing. It wasn't received favorably by Department of City Development Commissioner Lafayette Crump. He argued that such a proposal should be included on the front end of all agreements.
"I don't disagree this is helpful information to have about development projects," he said. But, he later added, "to ask for added elements at the table does put the company in a very difficult position. My ask would be we figure out how to do that on a global scale so that we're asking companies for it in all cases."
Dimitrijevic rejected that notion. She said her addition amounted to only a slight change to the agreement, which hadn't yet been signed by anyone. She said Crump's comments insinuate the only job of the committee is to vote something up or down.
"That's not good enough for the people of Milwaukee," she said.
Bauman said this has been the position of DCD for years. He also pointed out any changes aldermen make to the development agreement could be met with resistance by the city attorney's office. Something similar happened recently with the Couture project.
Alderwoman Milele Coggs said it touches on longstanding issues the Common Council has with DCD and its deal-making process.
"The level of communication and input that is allowed and accepted from the Council and public, those are way bigger issues than we're going to solve in this meeting today," she said. Coggs abstained from voting on the Milwaukee Tool incentive deal, all of the four other committee members today voted in favor of it.
The Milwaukee Tool project has received the backing of a number of business leaders and organizations, including the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Milwaukee Downtown BID No. 21.
"I believe we will have a good partner in Milwaukee Tool that will share with us family supporting jobs," Beith Weirick, chief executive of Milwaukee Downtown, said. "I hope today we can work to get this project across the finish line for the greater good of our community."
The incentive plan will next be considered by the entire Common Council. Barrett will almost undoubtedly sign the agreement if it reaches his desk.