Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Council Passes Gettelman Deal That Will Save One Building, Demolish Others

MillerCoors will demolish historic brewery structures featured prominently in their marketing.

By - Sep 27th, 2017 04:09 pm
Plank Road Brewery

Plank Road Brewery

Save a single building, all of the remaining unrenovated Gettelman Brewery buildings will be razed. On Tuesday morning the Milwaukee Common Council passed a compromise historic designation that allows MillerCoors to demolish or relocate the historic structures at 4400 W. State St. to create more space for parking.

MillerCoors is seeking to raze the buildings, which are featured in the logo for Icehouse beer, as part of their “State Street Yard Reconfiguration Project.” Among other efficiency improvements in the project, the brewing giant intends to turn land occupied by the historic structures into 70 employee parking spaces.

The building that is proposed to be saved will be relocated across W. State St. to the south side of the street. That will place the structure, a house-turned-office dating back to 1856, near the brewery’s visitor center. A future use for the facility has yet to be identified. MillerCoors will need to apply to the Historic Preservation Commission for a certificate of appropriateness to move the building.

The city’s Historic Preservation Commission had earlier this year approved a permanent historic designation for the complex. However, Tuesday’s action by the council, which was triggered by an appeal by MillerCoors, overrules the preservation commission’s designation.

MillerCoors, through attorney Brian Randall, appealed the ruling on the grounds that it would cause the brewery an economic hardship. At the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee hearing on the matter, Randall stated “The company does not relish taking down buildings, but in this instance, it’s a necessary part of the project that we just described to you.” Randall noted that the Milwaukee brewery has grown in recent years, and now relies more heavily on semi-trailer trucks for shipping. The city’s historic preservation ordinance prevents the preservation commissioners from considering economics in their designation decisions.

Alderman Nik Kovac opposed the compromise proposal at committee, noting “I don’t think I’ve seen a worse case made for economic hardship. The hardship is employee convenience.” He argued that the matter should be held and MillerCoors should return to the Historic Preservation Commission with the compromise. “Why would you not at least want the experts to give us a recommendation on the nuances of a complicated proposal?” Kovac asked. He was the lone dissenting vote on the committee, with the measure passing 4-to-1.

The measure unanimously passed the full Common Council, with Kovac noting in an interview with Urban Milwaukee that voting against the approved amendment at council wouldn’t have helped preserve any of the buildings. Ald. Robert Bauman, who sits on the preservation commission and voted for the permanent designation, also voted for the compromise measure.

The compromise proposal by MillerCoors was supported by Ald. Michael Murphy, whose district encompasses the Gettelman buildings, and Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II, whose district includes the majority of the brewery.

The Buildings

According to a historic designation study by city staffer Carlen HatalaFritz 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.

The larger of the two buildings served as a malt house for Gettelman and was later used as a warehouse by Miller. It has been vacant for a number of years. A beer cellar, used before modern refrigeration was invented, is located beneath the building. That building, along with a 1940’s addition to the home, may now be demolished by MillerCoors.

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 and fully merged the brewery into their operations in 1970.

The original nomination for the complex’s designation came from preservation advocate and Amaranth Bakery owner Dave Boucher after MillerCoors applied to demolish the structures.

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3 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Passes Gettelman Deal That Will Save One Building, Demolish Others”

  1. Tony says:

    How sad. A freaking parking lot for 70 cars? Glad I don’t drink their swill.

  2. MKE kid says:

    Tony, same here. History destroyed for parking spaces? I thought Milwaukee had woken up after so many irreplacable historic buildings were torn down during the blindness of the 1960s through the 1970s. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.
    While MillerCoors is claiming that their market is growing, they claim that they NEED to tear down part of the Gettelman complex because of “economic hardship.” Last I checked, MillerCoors had a net income well over $1 billion. What a flimsy baldfaced lie of “economic hardship.”
    I’m glad I don’t drink MillerCoors watery beers. They are claiming they are purchasing some “craft” beer makers. I’m looking into other products they make so that I will not purchase them.

  3. Crying in my (non-Miller) Beer says:

    Actually, Ald. Kovac noted that the touted parking to be created sounded hugely inflated, based on the building’s footprint. It’s probably more like 10-20 cars–and extra parking is only needed in peak summer.

    It should be noted that neither Alds. Murphy nor Stamper showed any real leadership on this, nor understanding of the potential economic value of preservation. Instead they seemed to buy Miller’s “hardship” story hook, line and sinker.

    And then they pitched demolition of all but a token set-piece remnant as a “compromise”–when it was the whole complex and especially the unique-in-Milwaukee (and nearly in all the Midwest) lagering cellars that HPC unanimously recommended should be preserved.

    The lack of vision on the council is beyond sad.

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