Demolition of Historic Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee

Written by Tara Deering, Technical Writer, Two Rivers Marketing | September 28, 2010

Editing by Mike Larson, Western Builder

Brandenburg Industrial Service Company, one of America's largest demolition firms, routinely works on large, highprofile projects.

Just a few examples include: demolishing the Chicago Sun-Times building to make way for the new 90-story Trump International Hotel & Tower; demolition, asbestos abatement, utility work, site work, and asset recovery at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium; and decommissioning of the 650-acre BHP Copper, Inc. mine in San Manuel, Ariz.

One of Brandenburg's current high-profile challenges is performing selective demolition at the historic and world-famous Pabst Brewery in downtown Milwaukee. Founded in 1844, this brewery was once the largest brewery in America, bottling millions of barrels of Pabst Blue Ribbon and other well-known brands of beer. But the brewery closed its doors in 1996, ending 152 years of production.

Today, the former Pabst Brewery is entering a new chapter in its history. Located in the northwest corner of downtown Milwaukee, the brewery currently includes 26 buildings and two structures comprising more than 1.3 million square feet of space, along with two large parcels of vacant land.

In 2006, Milwaukee-based real-estate mogul Joseph Zilber purchased the Pabst complex for about $13 million after a prior redevelopment proposal failed to win $41 million in city financial aid. Zilber, who has become a multimillionaire by following his creative instincts, plans to include a mixture of commercial, office and residential spaces. His plans also include rehabilitating many of the brewery's buildings and then selling them to other developers.

But before redevelopment can begin, nearly all of the brewery structures require some demolition work, ranging from interior gutting to complete demolition. That's where Brandenburg's expertise in selective demolition, asbestos abatement, waste segregation, and asset recovery comes in.

Brandenburg crews arrived at the Pabst Brewery complex in January, knowing they faced an enormous undertaking, says John O'Keefe, Brandenburg marketing manager. The proposed demolition is expected to take approximately a full year of continuous work.

"It's your typical demolition site in the fact that there are interior and structural demolition, asbestos abatement and hazardous material removal. But this project is unique in that it is a major revitalization effort," he says. "This is a big deal for Milwaukee. The intent is to turn that whole plant area into a community within itself."

Before demolition begins, Brandenburg had to remove all asbestos from the dated buildings. Crews found the hazardous material in floor tile, pipe insulation and some of the buildings' doors. In order to contain the asbestos, O'Keefe says, it was sorted and removed separately from the general garbage and demolition debris.

O'Keefe says that Brandenburg crews performing selective demolition rely heavily on compact equipment that can get inside buildings and work in confined areas. At the Pabst Brewery, Brandenburg uses a fleet of Bobcat® skid-steer loaders — including four S300s and a 463 — equipped with various attachments to help tear out interior walls, sort and haul debris, and clean up. "It's a big project, so we have a lot of equipment on-site," he says. "On every demolition project, we have had at least one loader because they're probably the most versatile machines we have."

The 36-inch width of the 463 skid-steer loader enables it to easily enter the buildings that need to be gutted. Hydraulic breaker and bucket attachments on the skid-steer loaders enable Brandenburg crews to rip out ceilings and walls. O'Keefe says crews especially like the versatility the machines afford by being able to quickly switch between multiple attachments within minutes.

Because skid-steer loaders can pivot within their own width, operators maneuver easily between and around foundation beams and other obstacles inside the buildings. O'Keefe says the loaders' compact size eliminates the need to demolish structures to make working room, leaving more of the building intact.

"There's a lot of history in the buildings that we're saving, so we have to be extremely careful to preserve all of the historical architecture that remains," says O'Keefe.

While some operators work on demolishing portions of the buildings, other operators use skid-steer loaders with bucket attachments to lift, transport and sort odd-shaped debris. For such tasks, O'Keefe says they need durable loaders and attachments that can withstand the high demand of performing demolition work daily.

For the Pabst Brewery buildings that must be razed, Brandenburg will use a wrecking ball and large excavators. On those portions of the project, the fleet of skid-steer loaders will help sort and haul away debris.

As a demolition contractor, Brandenburg is always involved in the first step of the construction process because the old must go before the new can grow. On this project, Brandenburg will complete its work on specified sections first, so developers can start working even as demolition continues in other areas.

Brandenburg plans to have all of the demolition and asbestos abatement completed in one year, so the general contractor can build the former Pabst Brewery into the urban center of housing, retail shops, hotels, and restaurants that developer Joseph Zilber envisions.