Former Eau Claire tire plant brings back jobs

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published October 1, 1997  | October 1997 issue

Five years after Eau Claire's Uniroyal tire plant closed its doors on the last of its 1,300 employees, two-thirds of those jobs have been replaced by its successor—Banbury Place.

The 20-building complex counts among its 95 tenants a wholesale/retail flooring business, a birdseed seller, a vacuum repair service, dance studio, dog trainer and an indoor batting cage and a day care center, just to name a few. According to developer Jack Kaiser, vice president of Banbury Place, many are new small businesses that have outgrown their garage or basement. One of the largest businesses is a custom rubber mixer with about 110 employees, many of whom are former Uniroyal workers. Total employment in the complex runs about 850.

Kaiser says a benefit to a business moving into Banbury is the room to grow. Space expansion provisions are even incorporated into some leases, Kaiser says. And while Banbury is bustling with activity, 1.9 million square feet is a lot of space to fill and some large vacancies remain.

Among the most recent renovations are a 36-unit apartment building and a law office. Kaiser says the apartments have generated a great deal of interest because they are architecturally unique. They also appeal to Eau Claire residents who winter in warmer climes, but want to keep a summer residence in town. And the complex's first restaurant has just opened. The owners use a golf cart to deliver lunches to neighboring businesses.

"This is one of the largest economic developments to happen without much government assistance," says Mike Schatz, Eau Claire economic development specialist. The city's role in redeveloping the space has been largely limited to rezoning to accommodate the change to a multitenant facility and to some infrastructure improvements, Schatz says. The state has designated Banbury Place a community development zone, which awards the owners some tax credits and provides some benefits to tenant businesses as well.

"Banbury is like having a giant spec building," Schatz says. The complex draws attention to Eau Claire from out-of-town businesses looking for space. They may move into Banbury or somewhere else in the city, Schatz says. "It's been a driving force in our economy."

Kathy Cobb