FaB Wisconsin and developer Rick Wiegand are working on plans for an industry center of excellence in the City Campus on Milwaukee’s near west side.
The nine-story former Family Hospital building at the corner of North 28th and West Wells streets would be known as The Future Food Center and would be home to FaB Wisconsin, a research and development pilot center and other offices for companies in the industry.
Those offices could include headquarters, R&D facilities, talent attraction operations, a customer experience center or sales offices, according to Shelley Jurewicz, FaB Wisconsin executive director. There would also be a secure 200-space parking area west of 28th street.
Broader plans include a vision for a food and beverage square located in the area north and south of Wells between 27th and 28th streets. The area includes eight buildings owned by Wiegand and would potentially include additional offices, apartments, retail, restaurants and food and beverage manufacturers. Wiegand is in the process of converting the former Wisconsin Avenue School into a 23-room hotel and said in September he hoped the project would jump start development of City Campus, which he acquired from Milwaukee County.
Wiegand did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the project on Friday.
The center of excellence project would be similar to the Global Water Center in Reed Street Yards. Championed by The Water Council, the building includes offices for major corporations, universities and startups.
“They really serve as a wonderful model of how to go about this,” Jurewicz said, although she added the food and beverage industry is “a little more robust” than water technology. The industry spans from small startups with their own food or beverage product to international companies with recognized brands, but it also includes firms involved in packaging, testing and equipment manufacturing.
“We talk a lot about the farm, we talk a lot about the fork but those makers in the middle … kind of get lost in the storyline,” Jurewicz said.
Some of the early likely tenants include East Troy-based custom food manufacturer Contract Comestibles, which will establish a pilot production space on the first floor. Radio Tower Productions, makers of Wisconsin Foodie and Edible Milwaukee, will also have space in the building. Jurewicz said FaB Wisconsin has also had early conversations with Kewaskum-based Regal Ware about having a presence in the building.
FaB Wisconsin has been working towards a center of excellence for a number of years. The initial version was announced in 2014 as a partnership with Milwaukee Area Technical College. Jurewicz said it was tied to new programing the group developed with the college but there wasn’t enough demand from students.
“We realized as an industry we have to do much more to market these opportunities,” she said.
Food manufacturing as an industry accounts for about 14.4 percent of manufacturing employment in Wisconsin and employs more than 10,000 people in metro Milwaukee, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. There are also more opportunities in equipment making and other support services.
The center would have been located in MATC facilities on the near south side of the city but those plans fell through. Jurewicz said the setback was ultimately a good thing because it forced the organization to reassess what the center of excellence would need to accomplish.
The challenge then became finding a building and a partner that would meet the organization’s needs. She said Wiegand’s control of the site and surrounding buildings helped make the location more of a possibility as did the vision created by design charrettes run by Near West Side Partners.
“The properties just lend themselves to some unique developments related to food,” Jurewicz said.
FaB Wisconsin hosted about 65 industry executives in May for a presentation on the project, detailing plans for how to use the 109,000 square feet in The Future Food Center. The organization has also launched a website dedicated to the project and launched a promotional video in November. Jurewicz said being able to bring other potential tenants to the building has allowed the project to gain momentum.
“You have to have vision of how it could be transformed,” she said, adding “Once you have a preferred site you have something physically you can share with people.”
The project website says there are tenant commitments for 25,000 square feet and the project will move forward once there are commitments for 50,000 square feet. A tenant commitment letter included on the site says the target opening is winter 2018 or spring 2019.