ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – Booming business – Downtown Green Bay sees rebirth as business headquarters take root

Posted on Jul 1, 2012 :: Economic Development
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Twenty-five years ago, downtown Green Bay was the place to shop with the Port Plaza Mall beckoning patrons. As consumers’ shopping patterns changed, the downtown found itself struggling to find its footing. Today, the downtown is seeing a rebirth that’s becoming a business nexus – with companies setting up their headquarters, and local retailers and restaurants growing as hundreds of employees provide a ready customer base.

“The corporate development downtown has triggered strong interest in restaurants and related services,” says Jeff Mirkes, executive director of Downtown Green Bay Inc. “It’s a very exciting time to be downtown.”

It’s also getting more crowded. Within the past few years, several businesses have established headquarters downtown. In 2004, construction of the Nicolet National Bank building kicked off waterfront development. That four-story building includes the bank’s corporate offices and AON, a risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage and human resource consulting firm.

In 2005, Baylake Bank purchased the former Boston Store and remodeled into the Baylake City Center, making it the company’s headquarters. APAC also moved its customer service call center into the building, bringing along 1,000 employees.

Within the past year, two major Green Bay employers announced plans to move their headquarters downtown. Schreiber Foods Inc. will break ground this summer on a 250,000-square-foot corporate headquarters and research center while Associated Bank is remodeling the Regency Center with plans to bring 500 employees to a new centralized location.

As companies and their employees move downtown, local restaurants are excited about the potential new customers, Mirkes says. “We’ve had buildings that have sat with nothing going on, suddenly seeing action. People want to be a part of this vibrant community,” he says.

Jesse and Tina Wotruba, owners of the Fox Harbor Pub & Grill, are looking to benefit from having more workers downtown. The pair is reviving the former Oxford’s/Filmore Pub space into a second location of their six-year-old business. They are currently completing a renovation of the building and plan to open next month, says Jesse Wotruba.

Staff members “toured this building and are excited to bring more of their cuisine, hospitality and service to this new endeavor,” he says.

Bringing workers together

Schreiber Foods and Associated Bank both plan to use their downtown headquarters to bring together workers currently scattered at various locations in the area.

Schreiber, whose headquarters now is two blocks east in the U.S. Bank building, will move to a new location where the Port Plaza Mall and a J.C. Penney store stood. Designed by HGA, an architectural firm in Milwaukee, the new five-story building will be made out of cream-colored limestone and transparent glass. The $50 million project is expected to be complete by the fall of 2014.

Schreiber is one of the world’s largest producers of cheese and yogurt. The company has annual sales of $4.5 billion and it has 7,300 employees, including 750 in Brown County. An estimated 550 workers will be located in the new facility.

“We’re looking forward to bringing our employees under one roof, which will enable us to collaborate better and provide our customers with more winning solutions,” says Andrew Tobisch, director of communications for Schreiber.

Schreiber plans to seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the facility. In addition, green space is included in the project design.

“Sustainability is important to us and we are looking to do what we can to make the building as green as possible,” Tobisch says.

When the company was looking at locations for a new headquarters, Tobisch says the downtown stood out because of its many amenities. “The YMCA is right there, there are plenty of restaurants and there’s also covered parking,” he says. “It’s a great location to be.”

While Schreiber is building a new headquarters, Associated Bank decided to renovate and move into the Regency Center. The bank, which is currently headquartered in Ashwaubenon, is taking up six floors of the building for a total of about 120,000 square feet.

The new downtown building will consolidate offices now scattered around the metro area, says Mark Quinlan, Associated’s executive vice president, chief information and operations officer. Some employees will begin moving in this summer with everyone onsite by the summer of 2013. The moves do not affect the Green Bay Service Center or any retail branches.

“The consolidation will mean less travel between buildings, and, ultimately, it will allow tremendous efficiencies in maintaining fewer locations,” Quinlan says. “The building is in a great spot next to the Hyatt and KI Center, plus across the street from Schreiber’s new facilities, and we have parking right next door.”

Philip B. Flynn, president and CEO of Associated Banc-Corp, says the move is good for the community and the bank.

“The consolidation strengthens collaboration within our organization. The investment reflects our commitment to Associated’s sustained growth and the prosperity of our communities. As a key corporate citizen of Green Bay, it makes sense to invest our resources into our city,” he says.

Mirkes says Associated’s move reaffirms his vision of “downtown Green Bay being the financial center for Northeast Wisconsin.”

New life for an old hotel

As businesses begin setting up shop downtown, the City of Green Bay is turning its attention to revitalizing the Hotel Northland.

The 89-year-old building is now vacant, but operated as a hotel for 50 years before being converted into low-income apartments during the 1970s. Now the city and a third-party owner are looking for a developer to restore the eight-story building and reopen it as a hotel. That project could cost more than $25 million.

“The city is trying to connect with developers who specialize in this area,” Mirkes says. “The restoration of the Hotel Northland would be a huge asset to the entire downtown.”

The city put together a website to promote the hotel – www.hotelnorthlandgb.com – to help attract potential developers. “There’s a lot of excitement and energy around the project,” Mirkes adds.

The addition of a boutique hotel would be essential as city officials continue with plans to expand the KI Convention Center. That project calls for a $19.5 million addition that will bring the center’s total square footage to 75,000. The expanded space will allow for larger events – and bring more people downtown.

“There was a recent survey of downtown workers and 83 percent say they enjoy being downtown – that says a lot and shows the real excitement out there about everything going on,” Mirkes says.

On the web

Downtown Green Bay Inc. downtowngreenbay.com

Hotel Northland www.hotelnorthlandgb.com