Madison Common Council addresses gentrification introducing Oscar Mayer site plan

Bradley. J Burt, Broadcast General Manager

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has opened public discussion to address the issue of gentrification. Rhodes-Conway wants to hear ideas from Madison citizens addressing the abandoned Oscar Mayer plant on Madison’s North. The site plan was a campaign issue for her and part of her platform when Rhodes-Conway ran for the city’s top office.

Gentrification is a method of zoning by investors who take low-income neighborhoods and develop them into high-profile target redevelopment to attract the middle class and upper class to improve. As prices and rent go up, affordability goes down, thus forcing people of low income no choice but to vacate.

Those people may include students of Madison College who become displaced due to being priced out of available housing options especially those living close to the Truax and Commercial Avenue campuses. In fact, gentrification took center stage when the Madison Common Council introduced “The Oscar Meyer Special Area Plan” on March. 3. The Madison Common Council has begun organizing committees to hear public comment to assist the city with moving forward with the vacant Oscar Mayer facility.

Oscar Mayer’s 425-acre plant site closed in 2017 and more than 600 people lost their jobs as a result. The property has been the topic of community discussion due to complaints of the abandoned property being an eyesore and called a “sea of asphalt” by some ever since.

“While its (Oscar Mayer’s) closure had a devastating impact to many, it created an opportunity and was the catalyst for reconsidering the future of an entire industrial corridor in close proximity to downtown,” the plan states.

The “Oscar Mayer Special Area Plan” includes the creation of a mixed density method to introduce the neighborhood of the Oscar Mayer plant. The beginning phase would seek to redevelop the southeast corner area. A ground floor proposal would offer commercial resources to neighborhood residents providing community needs located at the corner of N. Sherman and Aberg avenues.

The Oscar Mayer plant was an important part of Madison’s history and economic engine. It kept families afloat for a little over a century. The plant closed causing a socio-economic shift in income leaving workers unemployed. The City of Madison believes there is a common good in developing the plan. By combining the issues of lost tax revenue for the city and jobs for employees, with gentrification into one strategic collective bargain, those who were harmed by the closing and more recently displaced from housing options, could possibly be benefactors. Rhodes-Conway has been working with citizens and public officials to address possible outcomes due to wondering where to take the plant’s vacancy into the future.

As it stands, the current planning area is estimated to offer up to 2,500 jobs, has less than 150 residents living in the 425-acre radius, with a total tax base of approximately $74 million in revenue. The process overview seeks to work with the community in two phases. The first phase will create an Oscar Mayer site survey, public forum, open house assessment, and develop focus groups and establish Strategic Assessment Committee meetings. The second phase of development will go from addressing existing conditions to concept develop, which will then be offered to the Madison Common Council committees for concept review and draft plan recommendations.

By addressing goals enclosed in areas of land use, transportation, neighborhood, housing, economy, opportunity, culture and character, the City of Madison will seek to refine the final steps to act. The proposal of the plan will outline urban development projects that will slow the effects of displacement. The project development will end by working with community leaders to address the growing gentrification issues faced by residents who lost their jobs due to the plant closure. In the end, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is seeking to collaborate on all levels to improve the socio-economic setbacks by Madison residents.