Jeff Mirkes worked in banking until 12 years ago, when he began working in economic development. The executive director of Downtown Green Bay Inc. and Olde Main Street Inc. sat down with Insight Executive Editor Margaret LeBrun to talk about the impact of Schreiber Foods and Associated Bank moving as many as 1,000 employees into downtown Green Bay.
We’re really excited about the growing confidence in our downtown for consumers and entrepreneurs. There are a number of big pieces to the puzzle that are moving in the right direction – we are probably seeing more synergy than we have in the past 20 years.
The announcement last summer by Schreiber Foods to build a $50 million downtown corporate headquarters is definitely influencing other entrepreneurs, and Associated Bank making the decision to acquire the Regency office center and bring 500 people to the downtown is another very significant decision. We have corporate leadership that is influencing the success of our downtown and really having a big impact on our community.
These are very exciting times for our downtown. We will be nearing completion of the City Deck this fall. We’ve had a couple of years of event programming there, and it is clearly making a difference in the way people interact with the Fox River and the impact that people’s attitudes have on downtown.
Associated Bank will take people from numerous other locations in the region and locate them in the Regency office center. They moved the first wave and have one floor already filled up.
Schreiber will also have in excess of 500 employees downtown. Both companies are Green Bay-based, and I’ve heard both CEOs – Mike Haddad at Schreiber and Phil Flynn at Associated Bank – speak about the significance of their corporate employees being housed under one roof in downtown locations.
We’re very hopeful that other companies also identify the good things happening downtown and that creative class organizations will see the opportunities of being centrally located – being in the heart of the city, being close to the cool restaurants and activities.
Our small organization 10 years ago coordinated 16 event days with three employees. This past year with 3.5 employees (and a lot of volunteers) we coordinated 57 event days. Now we’re on pace to do 64 in 2013.
A number of months ago when there were $70 million of projects on the drawing board, none of it included any residential. We are very pleased that under Mayor Jim Schmitt’s leadership, the city is embarking on attracting residential development. We’re beginning to hear from developers that there is a growing demand for downtown living. There currently are 550 residential units in our downtown district at about 96 percent occupancy.
There are a couple of other very significant projects on the horizon, and one is the expansion of the KI Convention Center. Just a few blocks away is the Hotel Northland – a historic property where Green Bay Packers opponents stayed in the ‘50s and ‘60s – and that is now positioned for redevelopment. The Packers Heritage Trail is another component of our downtown that swooped in during the year 2012 and now we have the opportunity to get the word out about historic sites with a Packers influence, from the Curly Lambeau to Vince Lombardi years.
We embarked on a consumer survey last year and 1,800 people responded. About 53 percent were downtown employees, and 83 percent said they liked working downtown. Knowing what businesses spend on recruiting and retaining employees, we think that would be an interesting draw for entrepreneurs as they make decisions as to where they want to locate.
My position allows me to review business plans for entrepreneurs and offer advice to small businesses. Entrepreneurs are cut from a different bolt of cloth, and my background has also allowed me to better understand their challenges and aspirations.