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City drafts 'blueprint' on potential for former Oscar Mayer plant and surrounding area
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City drafts 'blueprint' on potential for former Oscar Mayer plant and surrounding area

Former Oscar Mayer plant

A recently completed report offers a broad vision of the former Oscar Mayer meat packaging plant and surrounding area on Madison's east side while a more detailed study is planned for next year.

From the creation of a high-density, walkable district to adding family-supporting jobs and boosting the tax base, Madison officials are looking to guide development in a stretch of the city surrounding the former Oscar Mayer headquarters.

The city is wrapping up its big picture take on a triangular swath of largely industrial land — generally bounded by Sherman Avenue to the west, Packers Avenue to the east and Aberg Avenue to the north — that includes the former meat packaging plant. The vision, called the Oscar Mayer Strategic Assessment Report, outlines broad objectives for the area, while laying the groundwork for a more detailed plan expected to be completed next year.

Ald. Larry Palm, 12th District, who represents the East Side area being studied, said for the redevelopment to be successful the city will “have to” consider creating a tax incremental financing district.

“It’s the type of development we need to support economically. The challenge will be to find what are the appropriate uses,” Palm said. “We really do have to take advantage of maximizing the economic return.”

Oscar Mayer Special Area Plan

After 98 years of manufacturing hot dogs and cold cuts, Oscar Mayer, 910 Mayer Ave., ceased production in June 2017 following a restructuring decision by parent company Kraft Heinz. The 72-acre site was purchased months later and is being jointly developed by Reich Brothers Holdings and Rabin Worldwide.

Nate Ellis, senior vice president of real estate at Rabin, said the companies remain focused on the reuse of buildings at the former Oscar Mayer location, now dubbed “OM Station,” for a variety of tenants. While he estimated some of the land could be suitable for infill development, Ellis said he sees “quite a bit of opportunity” for development on other sites in the area.

Neighborhood plans in place already provide direction for growth, but those were completed before the plant’s closure was announced in November 2015, said Bill Fruhling, a principal planner for the city.

“It’s not very often that we have such a large site so strategically located in the community that basically closes down,” he said. “We think we need to plan out for the future of this, it’s too important of a site to just kind of see what happens.”

Goals for the future

Throughout the year, a 13-person committee tasked with compiling the Strategic Assessment Report solicited public input, worked with consultants and heard from city staff about the assets, advantages and hopes of the area.

“This report is designed to give the developer, the community and the city basically the blueprint about what the city would be willing to accept on the site,” Palm said.

Ultimately, the report settled on 10 high-level objectives:

  • Targeting a high density of good-paying jobs.
  • Maintaining the cost of nearby housing to minimize displacement.
  • Taking advantage of the existing infrastructure and location on a major thoroughfare (Packers Avenue).
  • Ensuring a diversity of ownership and prioritizing needs of local businesses.
  • Creating a district that has offerings and activities for people of all ages and cultures.
  • Building partnerships with local educational and workforce training institutions with East Side and North Side residents.
  • Developing a transportation system to serve pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles and transit.
  • Improving stormwater management and encouraging green construction.
  • Building a mixed-use district to strengthen the surrounding communities.
  • Using development tools, such as tax incremental financing and zoning, to increase the density and tax base.

Palm, who is not seeking re-election to the City Council next spring, said that while the objectives were created for the Oscar Mayer area, he sees them as generally applicable to any part of the city.

“It’s always good to do those things,” he said. “It’s a process to remind us what is important and valuable to the community.”

The broad nature of the goals was intentional, Palm said, as the 48-page report aimed “to be very quick, very high-level so that you could get, you know, 80 percent of what you’re looking to accomplish without going into the details of how things are laid out, what they look like.”

Once the report is adopted by the City Council, the next step is a detailed Special Area Plan.

It will refine the objectives into specifics on land use and zoning for parcels of land, how transportation uses can be connected, and the urban design standards of an area. Fruhling, the city planner, said he expects work on the Special Area Plan to take about six months. Review by city committees could result in its finalization in the later half of 2019, he said.

Mayor Paul Soglin said he looks forward to hearing from neighborhood residents and property owners on whether the report matches their views for the area, adding that the report is “comfortably consistent” with a call for more quality jobs in the area after the plant was marked for closure.

Ideas for the area

The consensus among city officials, neighborhood residents and property owners is the former Oscar Mayer property, which had been an economic bedrock of the East and North sides for decades, should be a jobs creator.

“We would really like to see good-paying, family-supporting jobs come to the North Side,” said Renee Walk, a member of the Oscar Mayer-focused committee and co-chairwoman of the Sherman Neighborhood Association.

The city is also looking to encourage jobs that don’t require an advanced degree to move into the area, Fruhling said.

Walk, who also chaired a grassroots neighborhood group called Organizing Strategic Community Assessment and Representation or OSCAR, Palm and Fruhling all said some housing in the area would be beneficial, but the future should not be residential focused.

If done right, Palm estimates the area would have the most diverse mix of uses out of any place in the city.

Ellis, the Rabin representative, said the developers continue to work on an infrastructure upgrade at OM Station, such as laying new electrical lines that allow for individual spaces to be metered, so it is suitable for multiple tenants. He expects about $5 million of work in the approximately $20 million infrastructure project to be done by summer.

TASC — Total Administrative Services Corp. — and AssuredLeads are the two tenants in the nine-story office structure of about 300,000 square feet, Ellis said, but there are several letters of intent for space in the building. He said the owners are first looking to fill the existing buildings before considering new construction, estimating there is about 20 to 25 acres that might be considered excess space.

“In reality, when that place is going, there’s not a lot of extra space,” Ellis said.

Revitalization of the former Oscar Mayer property has already received help in the form of a $500,000 idle-site grant from the state jobs agency as well as becoming a federally designated Economic Opportunity Zone that provides some exemption from capital gains tax on developments.

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