Updated on Oct. 21 at 12:40 p.m.
Strauss Brands is no longer looking to build a slaughterhouse at Century City, which is on Milwaukee's north side, the company's president and CEO announced Monday afternoon.
"It was our hope that Strauss Brands' move to Milwaukee’s Century City neighborhood would have created jobs, provided an economic boost, and inspired other businesses to follow suit. We honor and respect the opinions of the community and don’t want to make our home in a place where our presence would not be seen as a benefit. We are no longer pursuing relocation to Century City," Randy Strauss said in a statement.
While Alderman Khalif Rainey defended the project during a Milwaukee Common Council meeting on Oct. 15, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that he rescinded his support on Oct. 18.
Original story Oct. 15
The Milwaukee Common Council has delayed a vote on whether to allow Strauss Brands of Franklin to build a slaughterhouse at Century City. That's the former Tower Automotive property that the city has ben redeveloping on the north side.
The project is expected to create up to 500 jobs. But the council on Tuesday sent the issue back to committee so aldermen can gather more public input.
The audience was packed with people opposed to the development. About 30 opponents gathered outside the council chambers before the meeting even began. Some carried signs that read "Stop the Slaughter" and "Slaughterhouses Harm Communities."
Wanda Terry lives near the site of the proposed meat processing plant. She says she was shocked when she first heard Tuesday morning that the operation was coming to her neighborhood. Terry says she's worked in deplorable conditions before and thinks meat processing jobs would have a harmful effect on workers and the area. She says she worked at a tannery on the East Side.
"I was totally sick. You can't eat. Your stomach is shaking. It's nasty, it's dirty, it's germy, it's everything. I don't know where they are going to put the blood. Have you ever seen a blood pond? Go to Mississippi and check out Tyson. It's terrible," Terry says.
Under the agreement, the city would sell 20 acres of land for $1 to Strauss Brands. In exchange, the company would build a $60 million meat processing plant in the Century City Business Park, which is near 30th Street and W. Capitol Drive. The city would also provide up to $4.5 million if the company creates 500 jobs. Strauss officials have said they plan to process about 500 live animals per day at the plant.
Another person opposed to the plant is Balaji Venkatesan.
"These are the worst jobs for the community. There are environmental impacts, there is high rates of PTSD with workers, high rates of injuries with workers. Crime rates go up, property values go down, nobody wants to come to the neighborhood," he says.
Venkatesan calls for sustainable or green energy jobs to come to Century City instead of the meat processing jobs.
The Common Council took up the item soon after the meeting was called to order. Alderman Bob Bauman says he was surprised to see the item on the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee agenda last week. Bauman was one of five panel members who voted unanimously to pass the item out of committee and bring it to the full council. But Bauman says he has reservations. He thinks the public hasn't had a chance to fully vet the project, especially with nobody at the meeting in favor or opposed.
"The company basically acknowledged, in response to a question by me, that they are indeed proposing a slaughterhouse. And I thought, 'Wow, everybody is OK with that?' " he says.
Bauman says there's a stigma attached to projects such as this one and it concerns him that such enterprises have historically been located in neighborhoods of color. With that, he motioned for the proposal to be sent back to committee. The vote was unanimous. But first, Alderman Khalif Rainey, whose district covers the proposed operation, gave an impassioned plea in support of the project.
"At the end of the day, this is $14 to $17 an hour. These are 500 jobs in the area that was once known for employing black people in the city of Milwaukee. What we're trying to do is create opportunity for people. Right now, we're talking about the scourge of violence in the city. How do we rid our community of that? What is the remedy for that? That's a good family-paying job," Rainey says.
Then, Rainey addressed the audience in the council chambers.
"Do black lives matter? Or, is more deference given to the life of livestock than it is to the black people here in the city of Milwaukee and the opportunity to pay for a living for their family? We're back to the same question," Rainey says.
After Council President Ashanti Hamilton called for order, things settled down.
Rainey chairs the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee. Its next meeting is scheduled for later this month.