After 80 years of dedicated service as a key employer in the Merrill area, the Weinbrenner Shoe Company will now have sole ownership to the property of which it stands.
As part of a joint meeting last Tuesday between the city’s Committee of the Whole and Redevelopment Authority (RDA), unanimous approval was rendered for a request from the company to purchase the property the company was built and operates on, located at 108 S. Polk Street.
According to documents released by the city, Weinbrenner provided written notice to the city on May 18, of the company’s intent to accept ownership of the Polk Street property.
“We are very excited about this,” commented company president Patrick Miner. “This year marks our 125th year of being in operation, 80 of which being right here in Merrill on the very ground we stand on today. We are here to stay. We have been committed to Merrill and the citizens of Merrill since day one.”
As Miner explains, the lease agreement was written upon the facility opening in 1936.
Weinbrenner Shoe Company was originally founded in Milwaukee in 1892 by Albert H. Weinbrenner. Then in 1935, a group of Merrill businessmen invited Weinbrenner to open a shoe factory in Merrill A year prior, a similar visit was paid to Weinbrenner by a group of businessmen from Marshfield, resulting in the establishment of the Marshfield –Weinbrenner facility. Upon convincing Weinbrenner to come to Merrill, the Merrill Industrial Federation was formed and fund raising for the project began. The building was dedicated on Dec. 5, 1936.
“The Great Depression hit towns the size of Merrill pretty hard,” Miner explains.
“So it became quite common during the depression for towns Merrill and Marshfield’s size and smaller, to approach business and industry in bigger cities, to try and attract owners to their hometowns; to build and employ people who lost jobs as a result of the depression,”
The Milwaukee plant would ultimately close in 1969
“Mr. Weinbrenner and the cities of Merrill and Marshfield formed very attractive agreements to lease property for the factories, which were pretty standard with these types of expansion and relocation of business and industry. In fact, they are very similar to modern day TIF (Tax Increment Financing).”
The lease agreement was then revised in 1988 when the company came under new ownership. According to an option to purchase provision in the company’s lease with the city, the price to purchase the property would be $234,300 – minus any costs the company has paid for specified improvements of the property, as laid out in the lease. In no case would the purchase price be less than $10, the lease agreement stated.
According to Miner, the company was also required to invest at least $250,000 in improvements to the facility over the lifetime of the lease. Since then, the company has invested well over $400,000 in improvements, including; completely residing the entire facility with aluminum siding in the 1980’s, various roofing projects and the construction of a 20,000 square foot Raw Materials Warehouse.
The lease came due for renewal last year.
Company ownership proceeded to hold internal meetings, as well as meetings with city administration, to decide whether or not they would rather purchase the property or renew the lease.
“We had discussed ideas for a possible expansion,” Miner adds.
“If we chose to move forward with the expansion, we would have renewed the lease. But we weren’t sure if the time was right.” Miner adds.
“We stayed in communication with the city throughout the process and this past spring we ultimately decided to purchase the property, continue to maintain our facility in its current condition and postpone any expansion.”
The Marshfield facility’s lease agreement which is identical to that of the Merrill facility, will be up for renewal in 2019.
Miner indicated the company fully plans on making a similar request to purchase, to the City of Marshfield, as they did with the Committee of the Whole and Common Council last Tuesday. He further indicated the company is still considering options for expansion in Merrill, but no such plans or consideration are currently in place for the Marshfield facility.
“We are considering options fr what to do with our property here in Merrill, but nothing specific at this time,” he added.
“This purchase is a testament to how pleased and proud we are as a company to be here in Merrill. We couldn’t be happier with the work force and the city fathers have always taken care of us and treated us well. We look forward to maintaining that great relationship in the future.”
Immediately following approval at the joint committee meeting, the matter was ultimately given the green light by the city’s Common Council by unanimous vote.