The Bucyrus Foundation is donating $2 million to the city of South Milwaukee, enabling the development of a banquet facility, museum and public gathering space at two city-owned properties.
According to city officials, the project includes the renovation of a city-owned commercial building at 1919 12th Ave. as well as the development of a city-owned public space at the intersection of 11th and Madison avenues.
The renovated building will be named the Bucyrus Club. The foundation is putting $1.5 million toward that effort, which will cost $3 million in all. The banquet facility there will be operated by Skyline Catering Inc., and the building will also be home to the South Milwaukee Industrial Museum.
Members of the South Milwaukee Common Council approved the city's purchase of the building for $560,000 on Wednesday. The city closed on the purchase on Thursday. Additional project funding will come from tax incremental financing district revenues and economic development grants. Skyline Catering will also finance improvements, and will pay rent to the city
Construction is slated to begin this spring, with a partial opening planned for Dec. 18. This date will mark the 100-year anniversary of Bucyrus opening its first employee club there.
The public space, which is currently home to the South Milwaukee Downtown Market, will also incorporate the Bucyrus name, though a specific title was not included in a news release. The Bucyrus Foundation is donating $500,000 toward that project.
Planning work on this space is expected to begin in the coming weeks, with construction commencing in 2021. Earlier this month, council members voted to hire Madison-based landscape architecture firm Saiki Design to help design the space.
Tim Sullivan, chairman of Bucyrus Foundation, said in a statement the contribution will honor the city's "proud past and promising future."
"This gift will ensure generations to come know the story of Bucyrus and the equipment thousands of South Milwaukee residents built, to build the world," he said. "This is also an investment in the future of South Milwaukee. I personally am excited to see how these projects will bring new life to the downtown area and serve as catalysts for even more investment in the city."
The Bucyrus Club will be able to hold more than 400 people. Skyline Catering, owned by South Milwaukee residents Ernie and Kathy Wunsch, will aim to host a variety of events at the new venue, such as small community groups, wedding receptions and corporate events. The space will also eventually be open to the public for Friday fish fries and other special events.
Ernie and Kathy Wunsch said in a statement that the facility will create upwards of 50 new food and beverage jobs.
"We want to create a place that will generate buzz, a place that will be the catalyst for other downtown South Milwaukee business owners to take a chance, a place that can bring the heritage of South Milwaukee back, and, most of all, a place of our own that we can call home," the two said.
Bob Jelinek, co-founder and chairman of South Milwaukee Industrial Museum, said in a statement that the new museum will celebrate the "rich industrial history of other prominent and historic companies that called South Milwaukee home."
The public space will also pay homage to the city's manufacturing heritage. City officials will seek public comments in shaping the details of the space. Preliminary expectations are that the space include permanent facilities to support special events and daily users, as well as historical features evoking the manufacturing history of the city.
"This is a transformational project for our downtown, and our city," South Milwaukee Mayor Erik Brooks said in a statement. "It will bring our proud past to life, telling the story of Bucyrus, its workers and their impact on the city and the world in a really unique way."
Bucyrus first moved to South Milwaukee from Ohio in the 1890s. At one point, the company employed more than 2,400 people in the city alone, and more than 3,700 across 17 plants worldwide.
Sullivan was CEO of Bucyrus. The company was purchased by Caterpillar in July 2011. Caterpillar then in 2016 ceased production at the main plant in South Milwaukee, after 123 years of continuous operation.
The Bucyrus Foundation was formed in the 1970s. In 2002, the company transferred its foundation to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. In recent years, the foundation has supported several South Milwaukee initiatives, including a downtown revitalization grant program, funding of the city’s economic development director position and a community grant program.
The building at 1919 12th Ave. was home to South Milwaukee’s first manufacturer, Schutz Bros. Furniture Co. Bucyrus purchased the building in 1910 for use as its west machine shop and steam engine assembly shop. The company in 1920 turned the building into an employee club.
The property at 11th and Madison totals 0.75 acres, and was formed through a combination of parcels that the city acquired prior to 2009. For more than a decade, the space has been used by the downtown market and other events, such as Crusherfest in 2019.