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Home / Commentary / View from around the state: Don’t let Oscar Mayer plant sit vacant for long

View from around the state: Don’t let Oscar Mayer plant sit vacant for long

It took more than a decade to transform the old Royster-Clark fertilizer factory into a thriving mixed-use development on Madison’s East Side.

City officials should make sure it doesn’t take that long to repurpose or replace the massive Oscar Mayer plant, which is closing at the end of next month.

So far, so good.

The State Journal’s Judy Newman reported this week on the first “serious contender” to buy the Oscar Mayer plant and headquarters at 910 Mayer Ave. Reich Brothers Holdings, with offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, is exploring possible uses for the site and contacting area contractors and developers.

That’s encouraging news, with Oscar Mayer’s parent company Kraft Heinz pledging to keep the community informed of progress as it seeks a buyer.

The 72-acre property with 1.7 million square feet of warehouse and production space will leave a glaring void on the East Side following a long and painful decline in meat processing jobs.

Candidates in the spring election for Madison City Council should be knowledgeable and active on the issue. So should other city officials. This is much more important than banning plastic bags or encouraging “hip-hop equity” in the local music scene.

Madison needs to get this right, which will take some time for planning and negotiation with private developers. Yet the city’s gauntlet of committees can’t be too picky or prescriptive or the site will stay vacant. That would be an awful fate for the North and East sides of the city if the plant isn’t transformed into a vibrant use.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin says he wants good jobs on the site, rather than housing. Jobs should be a priority. The city is losing about 1,000 jobs at the facility. Yet a creative proposal that includes a residential component with jobs should be acceptable. Madison officials will need to be flexible, as will any developer or tenant.

It’s important to remember that Madison’s economy is strong. Epic Systems, the health information software giant in Verona, added more jobs last year than Oscar Mayer is eliminating. And a construction boom downtown (thanks in part to Epic employees) has created opportunities for businesses large and small, as well as job seekers with a variety of skills.

— Wisconsin State Journal

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