The debate over Milwaukee’s Tower Automotive redevelopment is casting the project as both a neighborhood’s salvation and a risk better left untaken.
Sherman Jackson has lived in the neighborhood around the site since 1949, and he said he watched as the property declined after Tower and A.O. Smith closed their doors. The more than 100-acre site was the hub of jobs in the area, he said, but now fewer than 20 people work there.
“A lot of the crime,” Jackson said, “a lot of the foreclosures, a lot of the loss of hope in this area of the city, even though people were coming from all around the area, were due to job loss.”
Jackson said he spent the past year working with community organizers in the Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Project to get neighborhood residents tuned into the city’s plan to redevelop the former Tower property. He and other project supporters say the redevelopment is the best chance to revitalize the neighborhood.
“A lot of people are just so distraught with their lives or with consumption of alcohol and drugs,” Jackson said, “that they’ve just lost interest in wanting to be a part of developing the community.”
The Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday will consider a $15.6 million tax-incremental financing district to go toward the $34.6 million cost of buying and cleaning the site and installing new streets and utilities so companies can move in.
But the prospect of a four-year remediation project does not sit well with Alderman Tony Zielinski, who said the city should not spend the money on the former Tower site because companies have not committed to moving there. The money would be better used as an incentive to lure to Milwaukee developments with committed businesses, he said during Monday’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee meeting.
“I’m all for jobs,” Zielinski said, “but I’m for realistic jobs, not idealistic jobs.”
But the city is facing an employment crisis that is generating crime and foreclosures, said Alderman Willie Wade, who represents the area around the site. He said the former Tower site gives Milwaukee a chance to save itself.
“Our jobs situation in Milwaukee is our version of Katrina,” Wade said. “And nobody’s going to ride in here with a cape and save us.”
Redevelopment of the former Tower property can ease the crime and unemployment problems in the area, Jackson said, but only if residents are trained to get jobs on the site, including work cleaning the property.
“There’s so much that can be done with a vision of hope,” he said, “as opposed to no vision of hope.”
The TIF plan for the former Tower site includes partnerships with area organizations such as the 30th Street Industrial Corridor Corp. and Northwest Side Community Development Corp. to find and train people.
“The capacity will have to be developed, but that’s good,” said Sam McGovern-Rowen, business development director for the Northwest Side CDC. “That’s an opportunity for corporations here to develop their training facilities.”