City believes old foundry offers new opportunities

Nov. 14, 2013

West Allis — Another large industrial facility that now lies empty in the area of 68th and Mitchell streets is the city's newest target for redevelopment.

The Milwaukee Ductile Iron facility, which moved operations out of state to a newer facility, closed in 2009 in the heart of West Allis, resulting in the loss of 215 jobs. Aside from the loss of jobs, the problem for the city is that the blighted old buildings and equipment are dampening redevelopment efforts near the former foundry, said John Stibal, West Allis development director.

To the south, the Juneau Highlands business park is ready for companies to build, but the old foundry equipment and buildings have had a chilling influence on potential buyers, Stibal said.

To the north, Toldt Development Inc. is building apartments as part of the city's efforts to redevelop the Six Points area. Not having to look at the old foundry would make the apartments more attractive, he said.

Alderman Vince Vitale, who represents the area agreed that the old factory, has a blighting influence.

"We're trying to enhance the area, but there are questions of property maintenance" at the old foundry, Vitale said.

Enticing buyers

A company is interested in buying the foundry, which Stibal predicted could bring 70,000 to 100,000 square feet of light manufacturing space would go there plus other uses.

The city is promoting the redevelopment in part by helping the potential buyer apply for a state grant that could be used for environmental cleanup, if needed, or other needs. Although the grant request hasn't been finalized, the request would be for several hundred dollars, Stibal said.

In that regard, how the city is approaching this redevelopment effort varies from one recent approach.

Several years ago, the city bought the former Milwaukee Gray Iron foundry to create redevelopment opportunities nearly 84th and Greenfield Avenue. It then set up a tax incremental financing district to market the redevelopment area and fund certain improvements that will be recouped when the property generates new taxes.

In the case of Milwaukee Ductile Tile, the city prefers to find a buyer for the property, without a TIF district. The city would rather guide development than be a party in it, Stibal explained.

"We want to privatize development as much as possible," he said, noting that the city's decision to take over the Gray Iron foundry was tied to obtaining a grant it needed for the redevelopment. "... When the city doesn't have to own the property, we don't want to."

Vitale applauded the movement toward redevelopment of the Milwaukee Ductile Foundry.

"If investors are willing to come forward I'm for it 100 percent," he said, noting that the current redevelopment opportunity carries with it no cost to the city.

Site's aspects

The 11.8-acre site is generally bounded by National Avenue on the north, the Union Pacific Railroad on the south, 68 Street on the west and the railroad spur along the east. Although it consists of five parcels, the largest building sits on only one, at 68th and Mitchell.

The approximately 268,000-square-foot building, which has been deemed obsolete in terms of the market needs for contemporary industrial facilities, is expected to be demolished for scrap. The warehouse building at the intersection of 68 Street and National Avenue may have short-term reuse potential as a warehouse, Stibal said.

The other three parcels were used for parking and storage.

All five parcels have aspects of slum and blight, including some types of environmental contamination, according to a city report on the project.

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