On a recent Friday afternoon, about 20 employees of a commercial insurance leads company were busy working in a small, consolidated area on the sixth floor of a building on the former site of the Oscar Mayer plant on Madison's north side.
Rows of empty cubicles fill the office space while the rest of the floor includes unused offices and remnants of the property’s former use as a manufacturing plant.
While some may see the expanse of vacant space as the end of the Oscar Mayer era, AssuredLeads’ CEO Travis Batiza sees future possibilities with the 34,000-square-foot floor. Batiza has plans to expand the company to a couple hundred employees by 2021.
“We are beyond humbled to be part of history there,” Batiza said. “I can see both sides where it’s bittersweet — the change being great, but for many people, sort of sad.”
The company, which generates and sells commercial insurance leads to agents and carriers, prioritized the opportunity for growth when relocating from offices in downtown Madison's Gateway Mall, 600 Williamson St., to the Oscar Mayer space in August 2018. Batiza highlighted the access to parking and benefits of the central location at 910 Mayer Ave. for recruiting, including proximity to highways and the airport.
Before relocating to Wisconsin, AssuredLeads was based in Columbus, Ohio. The company began in January 2016 and was officially incorporated a year later. Three months later, AssuredLeads moved to Madison.
Batiza said he is focused on “keeping the capital in the Midwest” and countering the trend of companies relocating to the coasts for expansion opportunities.
“We are trying to reverse that trend. Plant our roots,” Batiza said.
AssuredLeads is not the only company operating in the Oscar Mayer office building, where the connection to the meat processing facility remains strong. A portrait of a hot dog well-dressed with condiments hangs in the front lobby.
Total Administrative Services Corp., a company that administers benefits programs to businesses, moved into the second floor of the building in June 2018.
‘Once in a generation’
As tenants settle in where Oscar Mayer used to make hot dogs and deli meats, Madison is thinking broadly about the future of the critical swath of land on the city’s north side.
The 72-acre property is located at a key position not only for the north side but for the city and region. It sits in a primary gateway between the Dane County Regional Airport and downtown Madison, and presents a unique development opportunity for the transportation corridor.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” city planner Bill Fruhling said. “We didn't want to jump into the planning process that drew the box too tightly too quickly.”
Since production at the plant ceased, Reich Brothers Holdings purchased the property and is jointly developing the site with Rabin Worldwide into a project called OM Station, which is envisioned to be a mix of commercial and industrial spaces.
The developer began a more than $18 million infrastructure improvement project on the property in July 2018. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. provided a $500,000 grant to support redevelopment.
Work to reconfigure gas and electric infrastructure is expected to be completed by July, according to WEDC, with the entire six-phase project expected to be completed in 2025.
Fruhling said the city is poised to begin its special area plan, which is a detailed look at the former Oscar Mayer property and the area surrounding it. The special area plan is the second step of a two-phase planning process that began with a strategic assessment.
The special area plan will address issues such as land uses, building height patterns, urban design characteristics and potential redevelopment at the site that is generally bounded by Sherman Avenue to the west, Packers Avenue to the east and Aberg Avenue to the north.
Part of the property could be used for a Metro Transit satellite storage facility, which is necessary to improve bus service on the city’s periphery and implement bus rapid transit in Madison.
While employment will be a focus at OM Station, Fruhling said the area will need complementary uses.
“We’re trying to come up with places that nestle within the neighborhood,” Fruhling said.