Milwaukee’s Last Automotive Plant May Close
Stellantis facility in Bay View could close. Plus: A recap of week's real estate news.
The last remaining major automotive facility in the city of Milwaukee could close.
Stellantis, best known in the United States for its Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands, would close its distribution facility at 3280 S. Clement Ave., and nine others nationwide, under a contract proposal offered to the United Auto Workers (UAW) on Sept. 14.
But the UAW rejected the offer, and those from Ford and General Motors. Workers at three facilities went on strike Sept. 15 as part of a first action. On Friday, Sept. 22, workers at the Milwaukee plant, and several others across the country, joined the strike.
The Milwaukee facility has approximately 100 UAW-represented employees.
Stellantis intends to consolidate its Mopar division distribution hubs into much larger facilities. The company would also shutter eight other facilities, including the former Chrysler world headquarters in Detroit. The proposal reflects a shift to remote or hybrid work for white-collar workers and a desire to create massive distribution facilities versus more legacy regional centers.
“We need to make investments into Mopar,” said Stellantis COO Mark Stewart during a media roundtable on Sept. 16 CNBC reported. “In a lot of cases, it … doesn’t make sense to make those investments in the location that they’re in.”
Stewart said the reorganization isn’t about “job reductions,” but it would result in 100 jobs leaving Milwaukee and Wisconsin for another city and state.
The Milwaukee plant sits just south of E. Oklahoma Avenue on a 43.5-acre site. Located in the Bay View neighborhood, the oldest part of the plant dates back to 1921 according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. The complex’s history is one of mergers and acquisitions.
It was originally a factory for Indiana-based Lafayette Motors. But the company was acquired by former GM president Charles Nash. Just a couple years after starting production in Milwaukee, Nash consolidated Lafayette into his Kenosha-based Nash Motor Company and produced only Nash vehicles in Milwaukee. Nash ultimately merged with Kelvinator, an appliance manufacturer, and then Hudson Motor Car Company, after which point it took on the name American Motors Corporation. American was acquired by Chrysler in 1987 and, in more recent history, Chrysler merged with Italian automaker Fiat in 2014 and finally French automaker PSA Group in 2019 to form Stellantis. The plant continues to sport the Chrysler legacy name of Mopar, a contraction of motor and parts used for the automaker’s parts distribution network.
The plant, according to an industrial property survey by Mead & Hunt, had stopped manufacturing vehicles in 1937 and transitioned to a parts distribution facility.
As recently as 1987, newspaper reports indicate more than 200 people worked at the facility. Chrysler had targeted the plant for a 1990 closure after it acquired American, but those plans never came to fruition. It did close a parts production facility at 3880 N. Richards St.
The warehouse facilities on S. Clement Avenue are formed by a series of multi-story brick buildings connected by 1960s additions. Trucks, of which dozens can always be spotted outside the plant, can quickly access Interstate 794 at E. Oklahoma Ave. or Interstate 43/94 at W. Holt Avenue.
Should it actually close, the site could have substantial redevelopment potential. It is largely surrounded by single-family homes or duplexes in one of the city’s hottest home sale sub-markets. It could also be adaptively reused: the Mead & Hunt report from 2016 says it is potentially eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places which would make it eligible for historic preservation tax credits.
A draft land use plan for Bay View, for which final Common Council is pending, acknowledges the plant exists in cataloging the few remaining industrial uses in the neighborhood, but does not suggest redevelopment or retention options.
For more on the strike itself, see our coverage from Friday.
Dollar General Will Replace CVS At Center And Lisbon
A building permit filed earlier this month indicates Dollar General expects to spend $60,000 renovating the 15,160-square-foot building. The property sits at the southwest corner of the angled intersection of W. Lisbon Avenue and W. Center Street and spans from N. 59th to N. 60th streets.
According to its website, Dollar General currently operates five stores in the city of Milwaukee. Its latest 10-K filing says the company operates 19,488 store across 47 states and Mexico.
Airport Train Station Construction Progressing
Much like the freight trains that pass it, construction is rumbling forward at the Milwaukee Airport Rail Station (MARS).
The project, which will add a second platform to the station, is a key component of a plan to increase the frequency of Amtrak Hiawatha Service trains between Milwaukee and Chicago.
MARS is located at 5601 S. 6th St., on the western edge of the Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport grounds. But despite its airport name and proximity, the station’s primary audience is residents that live south of Downtown and are looking to get to Chicago. The station’s large surface parking lot and proximity to the airport freeway spur make it a convenient alternative for those who otherwise would drive Downtown to Milwaukee Intermodal Station.
Earlier this year, Zenith Tech received a $17.2 million construction contract to build an 800-foot-long concrete platform, elevator towers, a skywalk across the two-track rail line and a host of improvements to the surrounding track.
WallyPark Poised To Reopen At Milwaukee Airport
The facility, 4747 S. Howell Ave., was shuttered in February 2021 amidst an international slowdown in travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Los Angeles-based company offers private parking near airports in competition with the often publicly-owned lots and structures directly affiliated with the airports themselves. According to its website, WallyPark currently offers airport parking in Atlanta, Denver, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Diego and Seattle. It previously offered a lot near O’Hare Airport in Chicago.
WallyPark offers shuttle rides to the airport, a loyalty program for discounted rates and a corporate program for larger clients.
VIA CDC’s Affordable Houses Are Test of New Building Technique
The pieces are coming together figuratively, and soon literally, for VIA CDC.
The southside-focused nonprofit has systematically expanded its housing efforts and is now piloting an entirely new house construction system as it becomes a developer of affordable homes.
The new houses, which will be partially factory-built and quickly assembled on vacant lots, are to be marketed to lower-income owner-occupants for $100,000.
The Connector Building Opens in Harambee
A new community hub has officially launched at the border of the Riverwest and Harambee neighborhoods, marking the first phase in an ongoing development project aimed at revitalizing the area on and around the Beerline Trail.
The Connector Building, 274 E. Keefe Ave., will serve as a site for trail programming, gatherings and events. It will also house a cafe, Kuumba Juice and Coffee, which is expected to open in the coming months.
“This is a great opportunity to really uplift and look at all the assets within this community,” said Darryl Johnson, executive director for Riverworks Development Corporation, the organization leading the revitalization effort.
Johnson addressed a crowd of community leaders, city officials and residents gathered for Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony — some huddled under a large, white tent while others held umbrellas against the morning’s cold drizzle.
Third Ward Tavern Saved… For Now
Preservation advocates appear to have won what might ultimately only be the first battle in an already-years-long war to save a Historic Third Ward tavern.
A representative of the development team that argued the fire-damaged, vacant tavern at 266-272 E. Erie St. was beyond practical repair and sought to demolish the structure emailed city officials Monday to say that the firm doesn’t intend to appeal the Historic Preservation Commission‘s Sept. 11 decision. But no plans to rehabilitate the building were referenced.
The commission, which cannot legally consider economic factors under the city’s preservation ordinance, voted to deny the development team’s request to demolish the building. Such decisions can be appealed to the full Common Council, which is free to weigh economic considerations and any others, in rendering a final decision.
Constructed in 1884, the two-story building was originally a saloon and rooming house operated by the widowed Catherine Foley. Miller Brewing acquired the property in 1896, using it as a tied-house tavern, and expanded the structure in 1912. It later housed a prominent gay leather bar, Wreck Room, and served as the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design’s (MIAD) student union. A fire struck in January 2013, shuttering the building.
Mayor Johnson Responds To Stadium Funding Deal
“I’m happy there is a bipartisan push for the Brewers to stay here,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson in an interview. “Do I have issue with the local contribution? Yeah, I do. And not just with the local contribution, but with the makeup of the board itself.” He also took issue with the lack of development for the “sea of parking” that surrounds American Family Field.
The proposal, a substantially revised version of a state-only plan Governor Tony Evers released in February, requires the City of Milwaukee to contribute $2.5 million annually through 2050 to pay for stadium repairs.
While Speaker Robin Vos announced the $700 million deal while standing in front of a sign that said “no new taxes,” the deal is based on the city giving up millions from a new sales tax it won’t even begin to levy until 2024 and that was intended to right the city’s fiscal health.
Republicans Unveil Brewers Funding Plan With $600 Million In State, Local Taxes
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and legislative Republicans have a plan to keep the Milwaukee Brewers in Wisconsin through at least 2050, though it costs twice as much as as an earlier proposal and involves substantially more local tax dollars supporting the team.
Through a combination of state and local taxes and a $100 million team contribution, the proposal unveiled Monday morning calls for raising approximately $700 million to repair and upgrade American Family Field.
“I think it’s a good deal for everybody. I think when they look at the deal, they will see that letting the Brewers leave would be bad for southeastern Wisconsin,” said Vos at a press conference Monday morning atop the home dugout at American Family Field. He noted that without the Brewers, the state would lose income tax revenue and be stuck owning an empty stadium.
“If the Brewers leave, we will continue to own this facility,” he said. “So the taxpayers are on the hook, whether we like it or not.”
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