New York group proposes ‘food tech incubator’ on Milwaukee’s west side

Includes urban farming operation, commercial kitchen, retail space

Milwaukee Food Tech Incubator
Milwaukee Food Tech Incubator 27th Street storefronts. Courtesy Planet to Plate.

Last updated on March 17th, 2020 at 01:32 pm

A vacant building and parking lot near the northwest corner of West Wells Street and North 27th Street on Milwaukee’s west side could be turned into a vertically integrated food facility consisting of an urban farming operation, commercial kitchen, educational programming, and related retail and office space, that aims to benefit area businesses and residents.

The project, known as the Milwaukee Food Tech Incubator, is being proposed by New York-based Planet to Plate at the Cecilia Annex building located at 817-831 N. 27th St. and the neighboring parking lot at 2734 W. Wells St.

According to city documents, the roughly 23,000-square-foot building would be home to a commercial kitchen, and retail operations such as a small market and café. Its second floor would be used as offices for Planet to Plate and the various operators in the commercial and retail spaces below.

The commercial kitchen would process and package the produce grown on site, and serve as a commissary kitchen for up to 15 local food trucks.

A roughly 4,400-square-foot greenhouse would be constructed on the western end of the parking lot. It would be used to grow things such as vegetable greens and mushrooms.

Planet to Plate also plans to weave educational programs and events into the commercial operations. These programs will initially be delivered to children ages 13-18 by a local non-profit partner.

Redevelopment plans also call for the repair and repainting of the building facade that faces Wells Street. A new entry vestibule would also be constructed. Meanwhile, the existing storefronts on the east side of the building facing 27th Street would be restored to their original condition.

The project is estimated to cost $2.2 million.

Milwaukee Food Tech Incubator
Milwaukee Food Tech Incubator Wells Street entrance. Courtesy Planet to Plate.

“Planet to Plate’s ‘Food Tech Incubator’ development model will bring together technology companies, urban farmers and processing and distribution operators under one roof to produce, process, distribute and serve food locally,” the group states in documents filed with the city.

The documents do not name the non-profit group or the operators who would use the commercial kitchen and retail space. They also did not specify how many employees would work there.

Planet to Plate aims to create healthier communities by providing fresh, accessible food and bringing together sustainability-minded people and businesses, according to its website.

Through an affiliate MKE Seed Holdings LLC, Planet to Plate would purchase the properties from their current owner, Rick Wiegand.

Wiegand owns the nearby Ambassador Hotel at at 2308 W. Wisconsin Ave., as well as the three-building City Campus complex across Wells Street from the proposed food tech incubator site. He also plans to convert the former Wisconsin Avenue School at 2708 W. Wisconsin Ave. into the Ambassador Suites extended-stay hotel.

Wiegand said Planet to Plate conducted a nationwide search for a place to locate its project before choosing Milwaukee. He said that Near West Side Partners executive director Keith Stanley introduced him to Planet to Plate founder and chief executive Christopher Corkery when the group was still trying to select an appropriate site.

“I immediately showed Chris this building (the Cecilia Annex), and it was determined that it would be a good fit physically for the operation that they want to run as well as a neighborhood that they’d like to be a part of,” Wiegand said.

Stanley said the redevelopment of this building should help in attracting interest for other development opportunities in the area. The project is also looking to benefit from its location within an Opportunity Zone. The federal Opportunity Zone program provides tax benefits to those investing in businesses or real estate developments that are located in areas needing of more investment.

He added the educational programming would hopefully benefit students of not only the 14 nearby schools but also the schools located in the wider area.

“To have a space that embraces urban agriculture, educational programming and community event space tied into one location, (a) historical location, adds value in so many ways,” he said.

The food tech incubator also tackles an issue of how to provide people with fresh foods locally, said Stanley.

“It allows the Near West Side to be home to this multi-purpose project that’s important not just locally in the city and state, but across the country and across the world as we talk about how to feed people,” he said.

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Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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