Developers try to recycle demolition debris

Last updated on May 27th, 2022 at 04:09 am

Sometimes, large amounts of construction debris can be recycled from massive demolition projects. Other times, recycling materials is a more complicated proposition.

Such is the case with two large redevelopment projects that are in the demolition stage in downtown Milwaukee:

1. Zilber Ltd., which is redeveloping the former Pabst brewery site, is recycling as much of the old materials as possible.

2. Mandel Group Inc, which is redeveloping the former Pfister & Vogel tannery, will only be able to recycle a small amount of materials, because of contamination at the site.

In addition to old brick buildings, the Pabst brewery complex includes vast amounts of scrap, machinery parts, old tanks and assorted junk that has been sitting on the site since the brewery suddenly closed in 1996.

When Joseph Zilber, president and founder of Milwaukee-based Zilber Ltd., bought the property in 2006, he also inherited all of that scrap. Zilber plans to transform the 20-acre brewery complex into a mixed-use urban neighborhood.

Meanwhile, along the Milwaukee River, Milwaukee-based Mandel Group Inc. is demolishing the old Pfister & Vogel tannery to redevelop the property into The North End, which will consist of several buildings with a total of 88 apartments, 395 condominiums and 30,000 square feet of retail space.

The developers for both projects say they are reusing whatever they can from the old industrial sites.

“Approximately 85 percent of everything on the site is being recycled,” said Mike Mervis, assistant to Zilber.

Items of significant size have been sold to other breweries around the country, he said.

“Some of the old tanks are glass-lined and very valuable,” Mervis said. “We’ve also sold bottling equipment and other tanks used for refrigeration to other breweries.”

While most of the scrap is being sold or recycled around the country, some is staying right on the property.

“Some of the scrap is being used as part of the artwork. Even the smallest pieces are being used for something,” Mervis said.

Approximately 60,000 cream city bricks from the buildings on the property that have been torn down are being reused in new construction and decorative work. The concrete from these buildings has been crushed and is being used to fill in old tunnels around the property.

“Our goal is to have an historical, sustainable project,” said Mervis. That will be accomplished, he said, by preserving the old structures and recycling the old scrap.

The Mandel Group is having a more difficult time reusing parts of the old tannery. Years of chemical use from the tanning process have left most of the tannery contaminated and unsuitable to reuse.

The Mandel Group is working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to remove the contaminated and potentially contaminated parts of the tannery, said Richard Lincoln, senior vice president of the Mandel Group.

“This includes asbestos, lead-based paint and residual chemicals,” said Lincoln.

According to Lincoln, the Mandel Group will be able to recycle most of the cream city brick of the older buildings that are torn down. However, some were tainted by an unsafe roof flashing adhesive that the tannery used.

“We will be able to save a few artifacts for historical purposes,” Lincoln said.

The water tower that sits atop the tannery will be permanently relocated on the ground to use as an icon for the new site, Lincoln said.

The Mandel Group also will be able to preserve and reuse some steel fire doors, and will save an 18-foot tall vat made entirely of maple that was found on the site. Vats were used in the tanning process to hold hides for an extended period of time.

Other than those exceptions, most of the machinery and items of value had been removed prior to the Mandel Group’s purchase of the tannery in 2001, Lincoln said.

“Vandals have even come and stripped the copper wiring,” he said.

To help dispose of the contamination, the Mandel Group has received three grants from the state totaling $910,000, which will go directly to asbestos removal and site testing, Lincoln said.

About $1.3 million of the tax incremental financing provided by the city for the project will be used for demolition and environmental remediation. The total damage of the contamination will cost about $5 million to eliminate.

“We’re even finding that there is contaminated soil and underground storage tanks that we need to demolish some buildings just to get at,” Lincoln said.

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