After a nearly yearlong study, the Madison City Council adopted a report outlining broad goals for the former Oscar Mayer site on the city’s north side.
For nearly a century, the Oscar Mayer facility occupied the 72-acre site at 910 Mayer Ave. and manufactured hot dogs, bologna and other lunch meat. It also held a key property in the north side neighborhood and in the region and fostered a "sense of pride and social cohesion” still present today.
“During its nearly century in operation, the Oscar Mayer facility has had an immeasurable positive economic impact on the community in the many well-paying jobs it provided, as well as the businesses that were supported by the company, its employees and their families,” the report states.
Following a restructuring by its parent company Kraft Heinz, the facility closed in June 2017 and is being developed by Reich Brothers Holdings and Rabin Worldwide. The current vision for the site, now called OM Station, includes a mix of commercial and industrial uses.
Nate Ellis, senior vice president of real estate for Rabin, said the company has invested about $3 million into the property to retrofit the existing buildings and is working toward kicking off a significant lobby and entrance improvement. Several tenants have moved in.
“We’re going for an industrial modern look and kind of embracing our heritage,” Ellis said.
Due to its importance economically, socially and physically, the city is emphasizing the future reuse of the site bounded by Sherman, Packers and Aberg avenues in its “big picture” analysis.
“The city views this site as a key redevelopment opportunity and feels strongly that the predominate use continue the location's tradition as a location for well-paying, family-supporting jobs,” according to the report.
Renee Walk, a member of the Oscar Mayer Strategic Assessment committee and co-chair of the Sherman Neighborhood Association, said the committee purposely created a broad report that recognized the potential of the site.
“The number one goal that we started out with and persisted with is creating economic opportunity on the space,” Walk said. “We think of what Oscar Mayer meant to the community for the past 100 years, and we feel the gap in those opportunities now.”
The Oscar Mayer Strategic Assessment Report outlines broad goals for the area, steps for future redevelopment and the creation of a special area plan. Those goals include:
- Target a high density of living wage jobs
- Maintain housing affordability and minimize displacement
- Leverage the area’s existing infrastructure and building stock
- Ensure economic recovery boosts diversity in ownership and local businesses
- Integrate a welcoming district that serves all ages and diverse cultures
- Equip the north/east side’s next generation with skills to meet emerging opportunities
- Create an integrated and connected multi-modal transportation system
- Deploy sustainable technologies, improve stormwater and preserve environmental assets
- Form an identifiable and authentic mixed-use district
- Proactively utilize city financial resources and statutory powers to optimize tax base growth and achieve the vision
The special area plan will guide future decisions about subdivisions, zoning, infrastructure investment and timing, among other concerns relevant to redeveloping the site and surrounding area.
“It really tries to address this just isn’t Oscar Mayer,” Ellis said. “This is an opportunity to make the whole area great.”
In thinking holistically about the Oscar Mayer site, Ellis hopes to create a mixed-use development on the south side of the property that would be a “dense site where people can get around and have a whole life.”
Ald. Larry Palm, District 12, supports the report but lamented that the work took too long to get started, noting that city staff will continue with an intense, specific planning effort.
"When we started this project, we thought it would be a clearing of the site. Now the buildings that are there are mostly going to be retained and reused, which changes how the look and feel of the site is going to be," Palm said. "We now have a document that reflects the desires of the city, community and region, but we need to be sure we’re referring back to that as we move forward."
Satya Rhodes-Conway, chair of the Oscar Mayer Strategic Assessment committee and a candidate for Madison mayor, encouraged the City Council to follow the "implementation matrix" outlined in the report. The matrix documents objectives, city staff needed to accomplish them and a timeline.
"The committee felt very strongly we wanted our work to not sit on a shelf somewhere but rather be taken forward and implemented as much as possible," Rhodes-Conway said.