How the Strauss Brands Meat Deal Went South

The deal arrived packaged as a fatted calf. Century City Business Park on Milwaukee’s North Side would gain another tenant, its third and largest since the city took over the site of the former A.O. Smith/Tower Automotive complex. At its height, the space buzzed with activity from thousands of workers, only to turn into a worthless, skeletal eyesore when the bosses left town in 2006.

The arriving company, Strauss Brands, was both local and longstanding, founded 83 years ago and operating out of the south suburb of Franklin. In exchange for a $1 deed to city-owned land and $4.5 million in potential grant money, Strauss pledged to build a $60 million new headquarters and meat processing center that would bring 250 unionized jobs with a starting pay up to $17 per hour to a community where upward mobility is scarce. If things went well, the number of workers would double in the next decade, and the added industrial density would revive nearby shopping districts.

But the deal died fewer than seven weeks after its Sept. 4 rollout, killed by back-to-back blows – first from 7th District Ald. Khalif Rainey, who withdrew his support on Oct. 18, and then from Strauss itself, which backed out three days later. This, despite all sides seemingly supporting the same goal of creating an economic magnet in a disadvantaged portion of the city.

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