The former Brach’s Candy factory in Austin sits abandoned, boarded up, and under 24-hour security surveillance. Graffiti now adorns the old brick facade. The former candy manufacturing plant of the one-time candy giant has been vacant since Brach’s moved its operations to Argentina in 2002.
The building’s current owner, Michael Goldstein of Gold Realty Group Corp., promised to bring some kind of manufacturing tenant to the facility. To date, there have been no takers.
“There’s no demand for rentals over there,” said Goldstein, who bought the site in October 2003.
He said there’s little interest from manufacturers looking to rent space in the city. He has gotten offers from retailers and residential developers. The 2-million-square-foot Brach’s plant covers 32 acres, and at one time employed more than 1,000 workers.
Most industrial manufacturers, he said, have relocated to the suburbs, among other locations. There’s even less likelihood of the site becoming home to retail or residential homes. As a Protected Manufacturing District, the site is zoned for industrial use only. The city would have to rezone the area for something other than manufacturing and won’t likely do that anytime soon, said Goldstein, whose company has bought, sold and leased other manufacturing sites in the city, including the sprawling North Avenue site where Wal-Mart is currently under construction.
“If we could, we would already have retail, homes, or apartments going up, but we can’t do that,” said Goldstein. “No one wants to move there yet. That’s the main problem. If there’s anything else [discouraging potential buyers], I don’t know.”
Goldstein’s company has purchased other industrial factories in Austin and on the West Side, including the factory of bottle-top maker White Cap Inc., 1819 N. Major, which closed the plant in 2002.
The Brach’s site, located at 401 N. Cicero, employed 600 at the time it was sold. Brach’s, whose parent company Brach and Brock Confections Inc. is headquartered in Tennessee, relocated its candy-making business to Argentina. The site near Cicero Avenue and Lake Street includes a large factory, an office building and smaller buildings.
Paine/Wetzel INCOR International, a Chicago-based brokerage firm for industrial properties representing Gold Realty, has listed the site for $10.5 million.
Ald. Ed Smith, whose 28th Ward is home to the Brach’s factory, said he’s working on at least two plans for the site, but wouldn’t disclose any details.
“That’s not something we’re ready to release right now,” Smith said in December.
And the site’s disadvantages might have more to do with the old factory than its location, said Rob Hoffman, director of Development for World Business Chicago, a non-profit development group promoting Chicago as a business hub, and which also worked to retain the city’s candy industry.
“I think the problem has more to do with the need for modern facilities,” said Hoffman. “There’s less need for skilled workers to run assemblies because everything is automated now.”
The Brach’s plant, built in 1923, also has multiple manufacturing floors where newer facilities house mostly everything at ground level.
“Except for an office building, the rest is unsuitable for modern manufacturing,” said Hoffman, adding that tearing down the plant would incur its own staggering costs.
“If the buildings weren’t there, that would be a whole new ballgame,” he said. “Sites of that size are very rare for a modern city. But the city has said they’re not willing to turn that space over to residential or retail.”
Despite manufacturers setting up shop outside city or even national boundaries, industry has seen its workforce increase.
The U.S. Department of Labor last week reported 19,000 new jobs in the month of April for the manufacturing sector of the nation’s economy, adding to the roughly 14 million workers already at work.
Yet big cities like Chicago have seen a shift from manufacturing to high-tech business. Low- to moderate-income areas like Austin have lost out in the transition.
Beginning some time in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the West Side lost many of its longstanding manufacturers. International Harvester left in 1969. Zenith and Western Electric bolted in the 1970s. Sears Roebuck and Co., once headquartered in North Lawndale, relocated downtown in the ’80s, and later to the suburbs. Brach’s shuttered its doors in 2002.
“There’s less and less of a manufacturing base, not just in the city but across the country,” said Goldstein.
He’s been buying properties since the early ’80s, and said his company is committed to bringing some kind of manufacturing to the West Side.
“The city wants manufacturing jobs and that’s what we’re trying to get,” he said.