Some Milwaukee aldermen open to revisiting Strauss Brands’ proposal for Century City

Unclear if company is willing to do the same

Last updated on November 6th, 2019 at 02:17 pm

At least some Milwaukee Common Council members are open to reconsidering Strauss Brands LLC’s proposed move to the Century City Business Park on the city’s northwest side. However, it is unclear whether the company would also be willing to try again.

The Franklin-based provider of meat — such as beef, veal and lamb — announced in September it intended to build a new 175,000-square-foot headquarters and meat processing operation at Century City. The facility would have initially had 250 employees, and according to the city, that number could climb to 500.

The plan had been to commence construction this year with occupancy expected in 2021.

But the proposal was met with stiff opposition from interest groups and neighborhood residents. In general, they argued the proposed slaughterhouse would negatively impact the quality of life of nearby residents and that slaughterhouse work is dangerous and exploitative.

This criticism led to Alderman Khalif Rainey to withdrawing his support for the proposal. Rainey represents the area where the facility would be located. In turn, Strauss announced in late October it was dropping its plans to relocate to Milwaukee.

The project was to be effectively killed last week. The Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee was set to take up various proposals related to the project at its Tuesday meeting, but those were withdrawn at the last minute at the request of Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton.

In explaining his decision, Hamilton said late last week that he thought there was an opportunity to further vet the company.

“I honestly wanted to leave the door open,” he said.

Hamilton added that projects of this size typically generate some opposition. He said he has spoken with his colleagues and a number of them told him they would be open to reconsidering Strauss’ proposal and that they didn’t want the approval process to come to a halt, though he declined to specify how many told him this.

“We just felt like it was premature (to abandon the project),” he said. “So, let’s continue that process.”

Hamilton acknowledged everything depends on whether Strauss wants to give it another try. However, the company has been silent since announcing it was abandoning the project.

Through a spokesman, Strauss declined multiple requests for comment.

Hamilton said he has not communicated with the company directly to see if they’d come back to the table. A staffer in Hamilton’s office confirmed on Tuesday morning that nothing has changed yet on that front.

Tim Sheehy, president Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, said he couldn’t say whether Strauss would reconsider the move.

“I don’t have any fresh information that I could comment on other than I’m happy to see the Council thinking this through,” Sheehy said.

Sheehy criticized Common Council members’ opposition to the project the day after Strauss announced it was dropping its plans. He noted it took two years to attract the company to Century City, based on the company’s self-expressed needs.

“This decision by the Common Council has killed the momentum for Century City,” he said at the time.

Department of City Development spokesman Jeff Fleming declined to say whether the department has been in talks with Strauss recently.

“I can tell you that we have companies that express curiosity about Century City on a regular basis, and that continues,” Fleming wrote in an email.

Rainey did not return a phone call seeking comment.

At least one alderman has visited the Strauss facility in Franklin and has been working to “educate” residents on the benefits of having the company at Century City.

Alderman Cavalier Johnson said last week that he recently paid Strauss a visit, though he only stood on the street outside the facility. He added that he did this under his own volition, and that the company wasn’t aware of the site visit.

“I had always intended to visit the facility,” even before the deal got dropped, he said.

Johnson, whose district is near Century City, said he visited after the fact because he heard concerns from residents about the stench a slaughterhouse would produce and the vermin it would attract.

He said he smelled no foul stench in the air just outside the facility, and saw no rodents running around. He couldn’t even see the cattle being hauled into the plant; only trucks moving in and out.

“It had always been my hope it (the proposal) can be revived, and that education that should have happened more so on the front end could be provided, and some of the concerns of the folks in the neighborhood — I think primarily around the issue of smell and rodents — can be allayed,” Johnson said.

Both Johnson and Hamilton said they supported organizing group visits to the Franklin facility. This goes for both elected officials and neighborhood residents.

Johnson has taken matters a step further.

He is a member of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee, and as such has already voted in favor of the Strauss project when it was first brought up to that body. Johnson said he sent a letter recently to Strauss asking them to come back to the table. The letter was sent on behalf of his position with the Redevelopment Authority, he noted.

Johnson hadn’t heard back from the company.

“I think at this point the ball is in the hands of the company,” he said.

Sheehy said that although he can’t say whether the city and company will ever revisit the proposal, he still has hope.

“I wouldn’t last long in my job if I weren’t the eternal optimist,” he said.

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Alex Zank
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.