Graham Kilmer

Miller Compromises on Gettelman Brewery

MillerCoors only wants to demolish half of historic complex after community push back.

By - Sep 21st, 2017 05:27 pm
Gettelman Brewery Buildings. Photo from the City of Milwaukee.

Gettelman Brewery Buildings. Photo from the City of Milwaukee.

All of the remaining unrenovated Gettelman Brewery buildings may be razed, save a single building, depending on how the Common Council votes at its next meeting.

Representatives from MillerCoors went before the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee Tuesday appealing a permanent historic designation given to the Gettelman Brewery buildings that sit at 4400 W. State St. in the middle of a MillerCoors parking lot.

The company offered a compromise to total demolition. They asked for a historic designation of the original farmhouse building the Gettelman family lived in as early as 1856, not including the 1940’s era addition, and that the rest be left undesignated. They plan to move the farmhouse across W. State St. to a spot near the visitor center and raze the rest.

The company argued that leaving the structure as is would be an economic hardship to the company. That hardship, they argue, is the loss of potential parking spots on land where the brewery sits. The city’s historic preservation ordinance does not allow members of the Historic Preservation Commission to consider economic hardship in their designation, but the Common Council can.

The committee amended the file and passed the compromise, 4-1. Ald. Nik Kovac was the lone holdout. Kovac said, “I don’t think I’ve seen a worse case made for economic hardship.” Adding that, “The hardship is employee convenience.”

Committe chair Ald. Jim Bohl voted in favor at committee but said he hasn’t determined how he will vote at the full council meeting next Tuesday. Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II also voted yes at committee. MillerCoors’ Milwaukee office is in his district.

The Historic Preservation Commission designated the buildings as historic in May, a decision MillerCoors was appealing to the zoning committee. Carlen Hatala, the senior planner on the city’s historic preservation staff, spent nearly 30 minutes laying out the case for the historic designation again Tuesday. Fritz Gettelman, who became president of the brewery in 1929, invented a number of innovations in the home, including a steam brush bottle washer, glass lined storage container, ice cutter and farm tillage machine.

MillerCoors argued that the buildings took up a space roughly equivalent to 70 parking spots for employees and “with the employment needs,” they need those spots, said Brian Randall, an attorney representing the company.

“The company does not relish taking down buildings,” Randall said. “But, in this instance, it’s a necessary part of the project that we just described to you.”

The company has adaptively reused three other former Gettelman buildings as a fitness center, company store and warehouse. Miller Brewing acquired the neighboring Gettelman in 1961.

Kovac said he appreciated the company was willing to offer a compromise but questioned why they didn’t go through the appropriate procedural channels. Specifically, why didn’t they submit their application for Certificate of Approval on this compromise to the historic preservation experts on the Historic Preservation Commission.

“Why would you not at least want the experts to give us a recommendation on the nuances of a complicated proposal?” Kovac asked.

Randall said moving the malthouse and the office addition is not feasible and they would like to proceed with the demolition process on those buildings.

“So you want to hurry up and demolish the buildings that the farmhouse is attached to,” Kovac said. “And then ask if you can move the farmhouse.”

Ald. Michael Murphy, the alderman for the area, weighed in and threw his support behind the compromise. “They’re committed to the community and they employ a great many people in our city,” he said.

Ald. Stamper said MillerCoors is “a prominent company in my district.” And supported the firm’s new proposal saying, “I think the compromise is a good one, especially with the presentation they laid out today.” Most of MillerCoors Milwaukee brewery lies in Stamper’s district, while the Gettelman buildings and a few other parcels are in Murphy’s.

“I couldn’t object more vociferously to, to the amendment,” Kovac said. “But, given the wisdom of my colleagues, I’ll take what we can get.”


Categories: Real Estate

10 thoughts on “Miller Compromises on Gettelman Brewery”

  1. David Boucher says:

    Compromise, definition: An agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.

    This alternative proposal was kept quiet, perhaps for weeks, finally presented to a very small neighborhood meeting held with snap notice, immediately following Labor Day. Those who agreed to it were already on the same side.
    This is not a neighborhood issue. Nor ought it be a preservation vs corporate jobs issue. Its clearly different visions of what we hope Milwaukee can be over the next decade or 2. One believes the city can do no better and one which knows it can do better with proper leadership.
    So lets not contort the word compromise, please?

  2. Virginia Small says:

    Some Milwaukee leaders may forget that preserving and marketing historical authenticity can be a successful economic development strategy.

    There’s little in Milwaukee that is as unique, authentic and historic as the Gettelman complex, with surviving mid-sized brewery buildings dating to before the Civil War. It includes the only remaining 19th-century lagering cellars (how cool is that in Brew City?), which later became Gettelman’s “Rathskeller” where movers and shakers (such as Harleys and Davidsons) met weekly for a “Five O’Clock Club” and visitors sometimes toured.

    The Pabst Brewery complex is a great example of city leaders doing the right–and smart–thing. Many city alders had supported a development proposal more than a decade ago that would have sacrificed most of Pabst’s historic buildings. However, enough council members saw the economic potential of preserving those buildings (not just a few token structures) and rejected that plan. Who would have even imagined that the subsequent development effort would be so wildly successful and even entice Pabst to return to open a small brewery here?

    A rushed vote to give Miller/Coors a few more parking spaces (by rejecting the HPC’s recommendation to designate the whole complex) would kill any chances of a much-better big-picture plan from taking shape.

    But the clock is ticking before the Sept. 26th council meeting when Gettelman’s fate may be irrevocably decided.

  3. MKE kid says:

    “Economic hardship” means a parking lot? C’mon, guys. You have to try harder for a BS excuse. I never knew about any meetings. When and where were any notices made public? I will be emailing my alderman.
    I’m glad I don’t drink any of MillerCoor’s crappy beers. This is what happens when you have a huge international corporation dictating locally important matters. They have no idea what is important to residents.

  4. Virginia Small says:

    MKE kid…The only “public” meeting (other than at Zoning and Neighborhood Development) was held just after Labor Day and notice was sent to 700 neighbors within a certain distance of the site. About six people showed. As David Boucher noted above, this is NOT a neighborhood issue since the vast Miller complex means there are virtually no neighbors. Neither Milwaukee Preservation Alliance nor fans of Milwaukee’s brewing history (who hold brewing-history fests and such), were invited or otherwise consulted.

    Yes, it appears that this many-named multi-national corporation currently based in who-knows-which city or country can still pull big strings–perhaps just be flashing that old Miller name.

    It could be a big blow to the HPC if its unanimous recommendation for designating the whole complex is ignored/bypassed by the council.

    I’m told the HPC reviews only about 4 nominations a year. So it’s not like Milwaukee is trying to preserve too much of its history.

  5. MillerCoors (actually owned by corporation located in a foreign country) now intends to demolish (waste) the former Gettelman Brewery structure with its historic and last remaining underground lagering beer cellars, and as a compromise, relocate the Gettelman homestead and office building to another location. The cost of relocating that structure is “estimated” to be $406,000, however the final amount could be much higher. The addition cost of demolishing that remaining Gettelman brewing structure, including the excavation of the underground lagering beer cellars below, removing the huge amounts of debris, filling and regarding of the site, repaving the site with new concrete or asphalt and converting that site into semitrailer parking, could easily add another two to three hundred thousand dollars to the grant total. The final tally to accomplished this could well exceed $500,00 and could reach as much as $750,000. In the end, this would result in additional parking for perhaps 10 semitrailers, which equates to somewhere between $50,000 to $75,000 per individual semitrailer parking space. With all the other nearby options for semitrailer parking available to MillerCoors within their brewing complex, MillerCoors claiming that the demolition of the Gettelman Brewery building and the relocation of the Gettelman homestead and office building is all about “additional parking for semitrailers” is perhaps misleading. It is possible and perhaps more likely that this MillerCoors (who’s parent company is located in another country) has future long term extensive development plans for that site and needs to clear it of any historical protected structures…………

  6. Eric S says:

    Last I checked, MillerCoors is owned by Molson Coors which is headquartered in Denver. I’m not sure how the headquarters location of MillerCoors corporate parent is particularly relevant to this story, though.

  7. Virginia says:

    Eric, Milwaukee’s history is surely more valuable and important to its residents and visitors than to executives in distant corporate offices, which are currently based in Denver and Montreal since MillerCoors was acquired by Molson Coors in 2016.

    The City’s Historic Preservation Commission is charged with trying to help preserve Milwaukee’s unique history, which in turn can promote long-term benefits, including economically.

  8. Eric S says:

    No argument from me there, Virginia. I should have been clearer with my response – it was simply directed at the reference to MillerCoors being owned by a foreign-headquartered company.

  9. David Boucher says:

    Shared headquarters in CO, USA and ON, Canada. 2 decades of corporate/multinational ownership change has had a chill on long term vision and investment in comparison with other corporate community in Milwaukee. It shows when long term vision stops at expanded parking lots in Miller Valley.

    Repeat; there is no shortage of open space available for parking within a few blocks of the site in question.

  10. Leonard P. Jurgensen says:

    Let’s look at Milwaukee’s recent past. The oldest underground lagering beer cellars, dating to the 1840’s, located at the Northeast corner of 9th & Juneau and formerly used by the Best/Pabst Brewing Company, were demolished in 2014. The historic Schlitz Brew House at Schlitz Park, built in 1890, was demolished in 2013. The two oldest structures of the former Pabst Brewery dating to the 1870’s, located along the West side of 9th street, were demolished in 2008. The last remaining former Obermann/Jung Brewery building, including the cellars below, located at 5th & Cherry and constructed in 1865, was demolished in 2008. That site is now a gravel and weed covered hillside. The actual Gipfel Brewery, located to the rear of its boarding house and saloon, was demolished in 2006. The former Gipfel boarding house and saloon, which fronted Juneau and located in front of the brewery, was then relocated and moved two blocks away. It stood idle and neglected until it was demolished in 2009. The last remaining structure of the Odgen Avenue Brewery including the cellars below dating back to the 1860’s, which was sandwiched between two newer structures and located on Ogden Avenue between Milwaukee and Broadway, was demolished in 2005. That site is now a gravel and weed covered hillside. All of this took place while the Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission sat on their hands. It is interesting to note that both the Ogden Avenue Brewery and the actual Gipfel Brewery, much like the Gettelman Brewery, were once protected by that Commission.

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