Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

City Seeks House Factory For Century City

Proposal seeks to create jobs and as many as 800 highly energy efficient housing units per year.

By - Jun 14th, 2021 03:19 pm
A field at the former Tower Automotive factory site in Century City. Photo taken July 26th, 2018 by Jeramey Jannene.

A field at the former Tower Automotive factory site in Century City. Photo taken July 26th, 2018 by Jeramey Jannene.

Your next house could be made in a factory in Milwaukee’s Century City business park.

The vision, from the City’s Environmental Collaboration Office (ECO), is to create equitable housing and new jobs while addressing climate change.

The idea calls for a new facility to be developed to manufacture elements or modules of “highly energy-efficient homes.”

ECO issued a request for information (RFI) last week to solicit firms interested in partnering on the facility through either design, construction or operation. Responses are due by June 28th.

“Factories of this kind are in business primarily on the East and West Coasts, with little presence in the Midwest. Milwaukee aims to fill this gap and become a center of expertise and capability for [Zero Energy Ready Home]/Passive Housing construction,” says the RFI.

A 25-page urban equity plan from ECO lays out the case for the facility, including the jobs it would create, the new, affordable housing it would supply and the positive environmental and financial impact it would have on the city.

ECO, led by director Erick Shambarger, calls for a $5 million allocation to build five prototype houses in rented space in an existing building at Century City, near W. Capitol Dr. and N. 31st St. The units would be completed by the second quarter of 2023.

“The envisioned public-private partnership would potentially combine funding resources through the City of Milwaukee, American Rescue Plan and philanthropic grants with private capital to realize the vision of establishing the factory and producing hundreds of new housing units annually for the City and the region,” says the RFI.

Market-rate developers would purchase buildings at full price, supporting the creation of subsidized units for low-income city residents. There would also be a  focus on building capacity through LISC Milwaukee‘s Associates in Commercial Real Estate (ACRE) program that trains people of color for careers in real estate.

The goal is to create a system by 2023 that produces houses that are at lease 50% more energy efficient than the building code requires and cost the same or less on a per-square-foot basis than comparable housing.

Long-term goals include the creation of up to 800 housing units per year at the facility, a greater than 90% decrease in energy bills at new houses, 50 new jobs, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions through housing and a greater than 20% increase in housing ownership opportunities.

The proposal was spurred by the Bloomberg Philanthropies Global Mayors Challenge and City-County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equality.

A formal request for proposals is expected to be issued in September.

Two high-profile companies involved in factory-built structures closed in the past year. Urban Milwaukee reported on Skender Manufacturing’s Chicago plan in 2019, but the company closed in late 2020 and cited market changes brought on by the pandemic. Earlier this month California-based Katerra, which had raised more than $2 billion, announced it would shut down.

The ECO report says that a wave of venture capital funding pushed the industry to move faster than it was ready to and indirectly suggests this creates a market in the Midwest.

The city has struggled to attract tenants to the 84-acre business park created from the former Tower Automotive manufacturing campus.

An affiliate of Good City Brewing acquired a spec building in 2018 for less than cost to build the structure. It has now landed two tenants to join it in the 53,160-square-foot facility. In addition, Talgo leases space in a former Tower building for train car rehabilitation and assembly.

A proposal for Strauss Brands to relocate its meatpacking plant to the business park from the City of Franklin was rejected by the Common Council in 2019.

The city received $394 million through the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act and has four years to expend the funds on targeted programs. For more on what the city is considering, see our coverage from last week.

2 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: City Seeks House Factory For Century City”

  1. steenwyr says:

    I hope for the best with this search, prefabricated homes could/should easily and quickly fill Milwaukee’s empty lots

  2. ringo muldano says:

    This has the potential to be game changing for the community.

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