ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – Waterfront rebirth – Plan would revitalize former Sturgeon Bay co-op

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

After years of being overlooked, the west waterfront area across from busy downtown Sturgeon Bay and tourist destinations is finally getting its due.

Within the past year, the city and Door County came together to put into place a plan that would redevelop the site of an old agriculture co-op. If all the plans fall together, the area will include an educational area paying homage to the U.S. Coast Guard’s efforts in the city, a market selling products made in Door County, a new hotel and workforce housing. That’s in addition to changes at the Door County Maritime Museum that include a 100-foot tower that will allow visitors to overlook the entire city and see from the Bay of Green Bay across to Lake Michigan.

“We’re really excited about everything going on,” says Bill Chaudoir, executive director of the Door County Economic Development Corporation. “Some of these changes have been a long time coming.”

Vandewalle & Associates Inc. of Madison designed the plan to revitalize the waterfront after getting input from a number of sources and identifying key needs and wants. To finance the study and plan, Sturgeon Bay leveraged a State of Wisconsin Community Development Block Grant that was matched with funds from the city and private property owners.

The redevelopment plan – which was announced last fall – has several key parts, says Sam Perlman, economic development manager for the Door County Economic Development Corporation. The first area is to take a former U.S. Coast Guard site – it still operates in the area from nearby Sawyer Park – and turn it into an education center. The site has a retired cutter and a Coastal Management Grant was received to put in a walking path around the area.

“Our desire is to have a big educational piece in place that will also double as a tourist site,” Chaudoir says.

While that project is already underway, the next big piece is the creation of the Four Seasons Market. The market is envisioned as a two-story structure with 15,000 square

feet on each floor featuring retail space where products made in Door County could be highlighted, such as wine, fresh fruit and vegetables. In addition, the space would include resources related to the region’s local and specialty food offerings and provide space for meetings and performances.

“It’s designed to be a trailhead or starting point to Door County foods and farms,” Chaudoir says. “It will showcase what the county has to offer and be a one-stop shop.”

Behind the Four Seasons Market, the plan calls for an upscale national franchise hotel. The plan also includes keeping the site’s historic granary. “We’re not sure what will be done with it. We could find a new use for it or perhaps use it to create a visual anchor for the site,” Perlman says.

Funding for the various parts of the redevelopment will come from Wisconsin Community Development Block Grants matched with city and private funds.

The final piece of the redevelopment puzzle is to build workforce housing at the corner of Madison and Maple streets. The city is pursuing WHEDA funds for the site to get that part of the project going.

“We’re really trying to kick-start redevelopment of the waterfront and this project will move ahead step by step,” Chaudoir says. “It’s very exciting.”

A bustle of activity

While tourism remains Door County’s top industry – about two million people visit annually with tourists spending an estimated $382.2 million in 2010 (the latest year available) – manufacturing, specifically shipbuilding, remains an essential part of the economic mix.

After a few lean years, workers at Bay Shipbuilding Company in Sturgeon Bay are busier than ever. About a year ago, the company received a contract for two 303-foot platform supply vessels for New Orleans-based Tidewater Marine, which provides support services for the offshore energy industry.

That project is expected to keep the shipyard busy for the next couple of years. The shipyard is also doing some of the work as part of the multi-billion-dollar littoral combat ship contract awarded to Marinette Marine Corp., which is across the Bay of Green Bay. (Fincantieri Marine Group owns both companies.)

In addition, the shipbuilder was exceptionally busy this past winter when the employee count rose to about 800 as vessels were brought in to be repaired. The new construction projects, however, are key to the shipyard’s long-term vitality, Chaudoir says.

“The construction holds the workforce together,” he says. “They are always busiest in the winter, but as the repair season ends, then there is often less work to do, but these new projects have the potential to keep the yard busy for years.”

In 2009, Fincantieri announced an aggressive plan to update both the Sturgeon Bay and Marinette shipyards. An estimated $21 million has been spent at Bay Shipbuilding to upgrade technology, equipment and buildings.

Another Sturgeon Bay shipbuilder – Palmer Johnson – is also on the upswing. The yacht builder recently received a contract for a new yacht and an order to complete another yacht.

“That’s great news and another wonderful indicator that the economy – especially shipbuilding – is coming back,” Chaudoir says.