Sitting along the Fox River in downtown Green Bay, the Shipyard area was once the epicenter for transporting raw materials either on the water or rails. Through the years, the 13.6-acre area was vacated and eventually labeled a brownfield.
The City of Green Bay is now in the process of transforming the Shipyard into a place for people to live, work and play between the river and South Broadway. Initially, Breakthrough planned to use the development’s north end for its new headquarters, but it changed course. That opened the door to Merge Urban Development, which plans to build a $21 million mixed-use development with 225 apartment units on the waterfront. Construction could begin next year.
“Originally, they wanted to be part of the Rail Yard Innovation District, but we ran out of room, so when the Breakthrough deal didn’t move ahead, I reached out to them and right away they were on board,” says Kevin Vonck, development director for the City of Green Bay.
The south end of the Shipyard will include multiple public spaces, including a great lawn for events such as concerts or individual and family activities, a beer garden, a playground, an urban beach and a container park. Right now, the city is putting in vital site infrastructure, Vonck says.
“There were some infrastructure concerns, including flooding, so we are building a lift station that will combat that worry,” he says.
The status of the Shipyard is where the Rail Yard Innovation District was several years ago, Vonck says. That 22-acre development contains commercial and retail spaces, restaurants and a variety of housing options — with only a few remaining spaces available.
The site’s former Larsen Canning warehouses were completely remodeled, with one building already at full capacity with businesses, retail shops and restaurants taking root, says Brian Johnson, executive director of On Broadway. The warehouse at the north side of the property is also filling up, he adds.
The district caught a break when one of its anchors, Titletown Brewery, decided to not reopen its restaurant in the old railroad depot and rather chose to consolidate its operations at its other site after Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order expired in early May. Not long after, another restaurant announced it was moving in.
“We had some fear about how long the building would sit open, but now the The Depot Gastropub is moving in,” Johnson says.
Bringing more housing downtown was a goal for the district and one that it’s delivering on, Johnson says.
Developer TWG will soon finish its Broadway Lofts project on the north end of the Rail Yard and is already planning for a second development on the site, a building with 225 market-rate apartments.
“As an organization, we knew we had to add housing units to our downtown,” Johnson says. “Our initial goal was 200 housing units and we have surpassed that. The dense urban living in the downtown is important to have as you look to add different amenities.”
The response to the Rail Yard is just what the city was looking for, Vonck says. The development has “seen a lot of action and has great momentum.”
Beyond the Shipyard and Rail Yard, several other downtown housing developments are in various phases of completion, Vonck says.
The transformation of the 1918 Whitney School into the Whitney Lofts and Townhomes is moving forward with 23 apartments complete and six of the 12 townhomes finished. Across from Whitney Park, the 20-unit apartment development at 901 Main Street opened earlier this year.
“We’ve definitely been playing catch-up with housing,” Vonck says. “There’s also a demand for different styles of housing, such as the townhomes.”
Turning to downtown businesses, Johnson admits many have been hit hard by the pandemic, and the organization canceled most of its events and is offering its farm market in a new space without some of its amenities, including live entertainment and arts and crafts vendors.
The city recently passed a rule that allows restaurants to build “parklots,” which resemble decks or patios and are placed within two parking spaces on city streets.
“This will allow restaurants to have more outdoor seating, which is something a lot want to have now,” Johnson says. “The expanded space will allow the restaurants to serve more people since social distancing rules have taken away some of their interior tables.”
Away from downtown
Green Bay — and Brown County’s — largest development project, a new paper plant for Green Bay Packaging, is on target to be finished in 2021, Vonck says. The project will keep 1,100 workers employed and create new jobs.
Construction began on the $500 million paper mill in 2018, and it replaces the seven-decades-old Green Bay Paper Mill. The new facility will produce environmentally friendly and high-quality packaging products. The mill will be equipped with the latest technology and equipment, including a high-performance XcelLine paper machine, which can operate at a speed of 3,940 feet per minute.
“We are thankful they decided to build a new plant here. It’s the first new paper plant in decades,” Vonck says. “It’s good news not only for Green Bay Packaging and its employees, but also its supply chain and its ancillary services.”
Near Lambeau Field, the city continues to make updates in its Legends District, which is bounded by Lombardi Avenue, Ashland Avenue and the Village of Ashwaubenon. “It’s designed to be a year-round area that will draw people from the area and beyond,” Vonck says. “New sidewalks and lighting will make it a better pedestrian experience.”
Plans for a new hotel in the district — The Legacy — continue to move forward, says Vonck, adding construction will soon start on the five-story, 79-room hotel. It’s being built on the site of the former Brett Favre Steakhouse.
And while Titletown is located in Ashwaubenon, the Green Bay Packers recently bought the Lyndahl Funeral Home property across the street from it in the city. Plans have yet to be announced for the property.