The Brach’s site in Austin has a new lease on life.
Itasca Illinois-based developer ML Realty Partners LLC has purchased the former candy factory for an undisclosed amount. The site will be converted into a product distribution location for manufacturing.
The real estate firm is backed by Iowa-based insurer Principal Financial Group Inc.
The seven-story Brach’s factory, along with several acres of smaller buildings located at 401 N. Cicero Ave., has been condemned for four years since Brach’s closed the candy maker.
But community reaction is mixed concerning the site’s future.
“This is a sad day for this community,” said Rev. Ira Acree, pastor at Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N Waller Ave.
“I would have loved to see a pro-community, job training, or youth development center built there. That’s what we need.
“Sure a few jobs will be created, but will this company bring money back into our community? I doubt it,” Acree said.
State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) was equally disheartened by the announcement. For nearly three years, Ford has lobbied to have the site rebuilt into a state-of-the-art community high school.
Ford said it was an opportunity to create a school in Austin conveniently located near mass transit. Ford envisioned the school having the same positive financial impact on Austin as high schools in some of the neighboring suburban schools.
“No, I’m not super-excited that there will be a warehouse built on that site,” Ford said. “I don’t see how it will benefit Cicero Avenue in terms of development new businesses or increasing the value of properties in the area.
“Although, I see it as a chance for new jobs to be created,” Ford added, “I would very much like to know whether the tenants are going to be community-based, or whether they will be hired from other areas.”
Ford, though, said he remains committed to his plan to see a new school built in Austin, and plans to begin looking as alternate locations soon.
Ald. Ed Smith (28th), however, was more supportive of the deal, arguing that the likelihood of job creation at the warehouse would be welcomed in the community.
“We’ve been looking for companies to purchase the site because it was becoming such an eyesore in the community,” said Smith. “The fact that it will bring at least 75 jobs to start is a plus.”
Smith added that the community already has plenty of youth-based service locations.
“We have youth-based centers at Lafayette Park and Garfield Park. We really don’t need another one,” he said. “If there was a center or school built at the site, there would be so much concern over how it would be funded by the state.”
ML Realty’s reported $42-million plan would see the candy plant demolished and a new 500,000-square-foot building built on the land. The site would allow as many as three tenants to use it as a distribution center of consumer goods to the community.
According to a press statement released by the city’s planning department to local media, the project will need to create between 75 and 200 permanent jobs to get the $10.6 million in tax increment financing (TIF) it seeks for the project.
ML Realty was unavailable for comment for this story. But company CEO Michael Luecht was quoted in local media over the weekend saying that no tenants have been signed on for the new space.
This is also not ML Realty’s first major property acquisition on the West Side. About a mile-and-a-half north of the Brach’s site, ML Realty purchased the old Helene Curtis Factory at 1401 N. Cicero nearly five years ago.
This redevelopment project led to the opening of a 209,000-square-foot distribution center for Coca-Cola Co. The site currently employs just over 300 workers.