Strauss Brands drops plans for Century City meat processing facility over community opposition
Strauss Brands LLC has dropped its plans for a slaughterhouse and meat processing plant on Milwaukee's north side after opposition surfaced from the Common Council member whose district would have hosted the facility.
Strauss had planned to relocate its operations from Franklin to Century City Business Park, which has struggled to attract development.
That $60 million project would have initially brought 250 jobs — with the workforce possibly doubling within 10 years.
Those plans were unanimously recommended by the Redevelopment Authority board and Common Council Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee.
But, when animal rights protesters appeared at last week's Common Council meeting, the council voted to send the Strauss proposal back to the zoning committee for a third public hearing.
Then, on Friday, Ald. Khalif Rainey flipped his position.
Rainey, whose district includes Century City and who chairs the zoning committee, went from Strauss supporter to opponent.
He cited opposition from people living near Century City.
That led to Monday's announcement from Strauss that it was no longer planning a move to Milwaukee.
"It was our hope that Strauss Brands' move to Milwaukee’s Century City neighborhood would have created jobs, provided an economic boost, and inspired other businesses to follow suit," Chief Executive Officer Randy Strauss said in a statement.
"We honor and respect the opinions of the community and don’t want to make our home in a place where our presence would not be seen as a benefit. Therefore, we are no longer pursuing relocation to Century City," the statement concluded.
Protesters, who didn't attend the public hearings, claimed at last week's council meeting the Strauss would cause odors and pollution, and harm people working there.
Around 60% of the specialty meat processor's 170 production workers at the Franklin location commute from Milwaukee's north side.
Strauss wanted to move to Century City in part because the location would be closer to a larger available workforce, said Jerry Bussen, chief financial officer.
Those workers are union members, with entry-level wages starting at $14 to $17 an hour, Bussen has said.
Also, a refrigerated, fully enclosed production facility and nightly cleaning would mostly eliminate smells at the Century City facility, according to the company's plans. Waste would be treated before being sent to the sewer system.
Finally, Strauss, which focuses on sheep, lambs and grass-fed beef, is an industry leader in humane, ethical treatment of animals, said Rocky Marcoux, city development commissioner.
Mayor cites misinformation
Mayor Tom Barrett on Monday said he was disappointed with the situation with Strauss, attributing the project's collapse to misinformation.
"It's beyond unfortunate that there was misinformation about the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods and about the nature of the jobs," he said at a news conference Monday afternoon at City Hall.
Asked about activists' claims that Strauss' facility would cause post-traumatic stress disorder among workers and bring bad odors and other other ills to the neighborhood, Barrett said he needs to find blue-collar jobs for the community.
Many people see this as a way to start climbing the economic ladder in the community, he said.
Barrett said the allegation that there was a lack of transparency in the process was "part of the false-information narrative that's out there." He cited the public meetings that were held and said aldermen had been offered tours.
His administration will continue to seek companies for Century City. He said he hopes this has put a spotlight on Century City that will entice other employers to the site.
"If someone is bringing me 250 union jobs where people can support their families, I'm going to listen," he said.
Blow to Century City
Strauss' decision is another blow for the business park, which is west of Hopkins Street and south of Capitol Drive.
Century City, on the site of the former A.O. Smith Corp./Tower Automotive Inc. complex, has been hurt by a location in a neighborhood marked by crime and poverty, and a relatively far distance from I-43.
About $40 million in public funds have been spent buying the site, razing buildings, doing environmental cleanup, and building roads and other public improvements.
That includes about $15 million in city funds that were to be repaid by property taxes generated by new developments at Century City.
But Department of City Development officials said that debt will need to be bailed out with revenue from other city tax financing districts.
Strauss had planned to break ground this fall and begin operations in spring 2021 at Century City.
The company would have received up to $4.5 million in city financing through annual payments generated by the new building's property tax revenue, and would have bought 20 acres from the city for $1.
Meanwhile, Strauss, which has outgrown its longtime home at Franklin Business Park, has another relocation option.
The company in May disclosed preliminary plans to develop a new Franklin production facility, at West Loomis and West Ryan roads.
That proposal received an initial approval from the Franklin Common Council.
Bussen didn't immediately respond to a request for information about the company's plans.
However, Franklin Mayor Steve Olson said he had conversations with Strauss executives on Monday.
Olson declined further comment on those discussions.
Balaji Venkatesan of the group Slaughter Free Milwaukee, which protested the proposed facility at last week’s Common Council meeting, applauded Monday’s news.
“We welcome that decision,” said Venkatesan, whose group praised both Rainey and Ald. Robert Bauman, another zoning committee member.