A new business development site near the Sherman Park neighborhood could potentially impact the community by bringing thousands of jobs to the north side.
The Century City Business Park sits just south of Capitol Drive and includes the former site of the A.O. Smith company. Bordered by Townsend Street to the south, the railroad tracks to the west and Hopkins Street to the east, the park has 150 acres of untapped potential.
The former headquarters of A.O. Smith, that later became Tower Automotive, now sits empty and boarded up. In its heyday, the company employed roughly 10,000 people.
But eventually, after Tower Automotive bought out A.O. Smith, the company went bankrupt and gradually phased out jobs. It soon after abandoned the area and took all of those jobs with it.
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"It was so gradual so that we really didn't feel the impact of it until it was done," said Yvonne McCaskill, who has lived in the neighborhood adjacent to the Century City Business Park for 43 years. "Some years later when we realized that many of the people who lived in the neighborhood actually worked across the street too, and that those people started to move out, and we started to get a number of renters in."
That's when she says they noticed a change in the landscape of the neighborhood.
She formed the Century City Tri-Angle Neighborhood Association in 2010, to try and take back the neighborhood. The park at 29th St. and Melvina St. was a direct result of their efforts.
"We know what this community was like when there were jobs in the neighborhood," she said. "We can do that again."
In 2009, the City of Milwaukee purchased the 150-acre site of the former A.O. Smith company from a third party group of investors. Rocky Marcoux is the Commissioner of City Development for Milwaukee and says Mayor Tom Barrett and the Common Council had big plans in mind for the site.
"We're going to leverage what most people looked at as abandoned property that could never be brought back to life," Marcoux said. "We're going to leverage it into the biggest single successful piece of rebuilding a jobs corridor along the 30th Street Rail Line."
The city spent $37 million cleaning up the site, demolishing buildings and preparing the area for new business. Marcoux says the majority of that money came from taxpayers, while the city also received assistance from the state and federal governments.
The city even built a new 50,000 square-foot building at the northernmost part of the site, to usher in a new era of manufacturing jobs. Marcoux says they are actively marketing the building and have several companies interested in that space.
An existing building in the park is currently being used by Benson Industries and has about 70 people working there.
"They're hiring residents from the neighborhood to be trained," said Marcoux. "They're being trained as glaziers and are actually building or assembling the windows, some of which will be on the exterior of the Northwestern Mutual building."
The original headquarters for A.O. Smith may eventually become a community building with a job center, or even job training.
In 1930, A.O. Smith expanded and built a new headquarters next door. The seven floor building also remains empty, but the neighborhood suggested turning it into a maker space. That would allow multiple businesses to occupy the building, and utilize the exhibition space on the ground floor of the building.
Marcoux says several companies are interested in moving to the park, including REV Group that would bring upwards of 1,000 jobs. REV Group is currently bidding on a $6.3 billion contract to build U.S. Postal Service trucks. If the company wins the contract, it has said it would build a plant in the Century City Business Park.
McCaskill says her neighborhood already has a lot of assets; good people who live there, nearby schools and businesses. The Century City Business Park will not only be another asset for her neighborhood, but she says it could impact all of Milwaukee.
"Not only the north side, it could impact neighborhoods on the south side," she said. "I mean people can get on the bus and come here for a job. This is about a city coming together to look at what's happening in our central city neighborhoods."
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