The way Justin Nickels sees it, Manitowoc has everything it needs to create a thriving downtown.
“We have the views. We have the amenities,” says Nickels, Manitowoc’s three-term mayor. “There’s not many cities that have a working river and a lake right in the downtown.”
Over the past two decades, the city has focused on development around Interstate 43 to the neglect of the downtown, Nickels says, and now is the time to focus on the city center.
The city has embarked on creating a master plan to guide downtown development. It’s a community-driven process, with the city inviting residents to participate via a community visioning workshop and completing an online survey and then using the results to guide decision making. The master plan is expected to be completed in May.
As is the case in so many communities, Manitowoc businesses struggle to find enough workers to fill jobs. A vibrant city and downtown will help address that, attracting the desirable bookend demographics. Both millennials — who provide much-needed talent to employers — and retirees — who tend to have more disposable income — want to live downtown, Nickels says.
Last fall, the Manitowoc Common Council approved a tax incremental finance district aimed at encouraging development and private investment in the downtown. Nickels would like to see more multifamily housing units, as well as unique retail and restaurants. Construction of a 17-unit apartment complex at the site of the former Schuette Brothers Department Store in Manitowoc is slated to begin in June, with an anticipated August 2019 completion date.
Nickels says historic downtowns can be tough to redesign because of their age, but the city does have non-historic buildings and is looking at developing underutilized parcels. The city is looking at redeveloping the 22-acre Canadian National Peninsula in the city’s River North district for housing.
“People are excited that the city is prioritizing downtown,” Nickels says. “We’re not just talking about it. We’re putting our money where our mouth is.”
Last year proved a hot year for new projects in Manitowoc. The city posted $60 million in new projects in 2017, up from $30 million in 2016, and it’s hit almost $60 million for 2018 already, says Peter Wills, executive director of Progress Lakeshore.
A recent recognition affirms this. Manitowoc, which had eight corporate investment projects in 2017, tied for seventh place in Site Selection magazine’s ranking of top micropolitan areas in the United States (see Regional Roundup, page 18). Wills attributes the success to the economic mood and tax cuts.
In 2016, when Manitowoc Co. closed, Wills held well-attended meetings on diversification. These days, concern has shifted to workforce needs, and he’s working with companies on attraction, retention and company culture. Wills also anticipates wage pressure this year.
“I’m telling companies, you have two assets,” he says. “One’s bolted to the floor, and one’s walking out the door.”
• Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center, a $13 million, 35-acre interactive education attraction, scheduled to open near Newton July 28
• Lakeside Foods Inc., $40 million expansion of its packaging facility, including a 100,000-square-foot addition, estimated 40 new jobs
• Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., $17 million expansion, including a new roaster and automated packaging line, expected to add eight to 10 new jobs
• Riverside Foods, Two Rivers, $7.2 million expansion, including a 20,000-square-foot expansion and new equipment and machinery, 35 new jobs anticipated
• WG&R Mattress Factory, 25,000-sqaure-foot plant expansion
• Hamilton Laboratories, 25,000- square-foot addition, including room for a new powder-coating line
• Robinson Metal Inc., expanding to Manitowoc for production of its custom enclosures at a former Manitowoc Crane Group production facility, adding 30 jobs