‘Game changer’

Neenah skating rink a gift to the Fox Cities

Posted on Feb 26, 2021 :: Economic Development
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

When an investor group led by Bergstrom Corp. Chairman and CEO John Bergstrom announced plans to build and gift an ice-skating rink to the City of Neenah, Mayor Dean Kaufert called it a game changer, and not just for Neenah but for the whole Fox Valley.

Construction is underway on the Plaza at Gateway Park and it’s slated to open for the 2021-22 winter season. The refrigerated rink will be available to the public to use between roughly Thanksgiving and mid-March each year, says Chris Haese, director of community development and assessment for the City of Neenah. 

“That is just a really phenomenal project as it’s being envisioned and a fantastic gift to the community and the entire Fox Cities region,” he says.

Located in the heart of Neenah’s downtown on West Wisconsin Avenue, the facility will include skate rentals, a concession area, restrooms, smaller spaces for people to congregate, seating areas, an outdoor firepit and a Zamboni. During the warmer months, it will serve as an outdoor venue that can host events and concerts.

What sets the gift apart, however, is that the developer also has promised to operate the facility for its first five years, with the ability to continue to do so for at least another 10. Ice rinks aren’t cheap to operate, so the agreement is a big deal, Haese says.

Elsewhere in Neenah’s downtown, two major multifamily housing developments are in the works. T. Wall Enterprises of Middleton is constructing the multistory Solaris on Main, which will offer 71 market-rate units, in-ground parking and a common amenity space. Located on the former Glatfelter site on the west end of downtown, the $12 million project should be finished in late winter or early spring of 2022.

A $7 million mixed-use project at Church Street and Wisconsin Avenue— called 201 West Wisconsin for now — will bring 4,000 square feet of commercial space and 40 market-rate units to the downtown area. It’s slated for completion in late spring or early summer of 2022.

Another multifamily development, Cobblestone Creek Apartments, is underway on Winneconne Avenue. While the 50 units will be market rate, they are designed to be more affordable, Haese says, and will be ready for occupancy by early fall.

Development also is going strong in neighboring Menasha. Construction will get underway soon on the Brin project at the corner of Tayco and Main streets. It will include a three-story mixed-use building, a four-story residential building, community gathering spaces and connectivity to the water and trails.

Construction of a new Racine Street bridge has begun, with a new bascule bridge getting built adjacent to the existing bridge. The existing bridge remains open, but sometime this fall, the full bridge will be closed for demolition and construction of the new bridge, which is expected to be completed in fall of 2022.

Near the Racine Street bridge, YBR Properties, LLC, which also is the developer for the Brin project, plans to redevelop a building within the former Banta mill site into 34 market-rate apartments with indoor parking, a rooftop patio and approximately 3,000 square feet of commercial space.

With the bridge reconstruction and Banta project, Sam Schroeder, community development director for the City of Menasha, says the city also has begun to look at redeveloping Lawson Canal, which runs through the Banta property. The project would look to naturalize the canal and make it an amenity for the city and region.

“These two mixed-use developments will be catalysts to future development in the downtown area where the city intends to fully embrace its waterfront and historic center, creating a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood with a variety of employment opportunities, places to shop, eat, live and play,” Schroeder says of the Brin and Banta developments.

Vibrancy also is the vision in Kimberly, where development is taking place in phases in the village’s Cedars development, the 100-acre site of a former NewPage paper mill. The village created TID 6 for the site in 2016, and Midwest Expansion of Green Bay now owns most of the land within it.

Cedars includes Rivers Edge subdivision, which has 40 single-family lots and two larger lots with duplexes and condos, the Current of the Fox, an eight-building, 124-unit luxury apartment complex, and Papermill Estates, a 49-lot townhome development.

In addition to development, Cedars offers plenty of greenspaces and riverfront accessibility, says Village Administrator Danielle Block. “The more greenspaces and access to the river, the more it just leads into what people are looking for down here,” she says.

Treaty Park, which sits at the entrance of the Cedars development, was completed in 2019 and offers an ADA-accessible play structure, gazebo, historic artifacts from the mill site and open greenspaces with trees. Construction of a public scenic overlook also is underway near the Kaukauna dam and should be completed by this spring or summer. The hardscape overlook that uses an old building from the mill site will be accessible to bikes and will include a shelter.

Midwest Expansion completed more demolition within the site last year and is now doing structural analysis and engineering to determine how best to use remaining spaces. It’s focused on adding more high-density residential as well as professional spaces, restaurants and entertainment, Block says.

As Cedars continues to take shape, Block says she would like to see that momentum help revitalize the village’s downtown as well and funnel people into three corridors: Kimberly Avenue, Maes Avenue and Papermill Run.

In Kimberly’s County CE corridor, construction is underway on a Stein’s Garden & Home store that’s expected to open in May. With more parcels remaining, Block would like to see development continue. “Hopefully, one business attracts another business and we can keep that development going there.”

Also in the Heart of the Valley, a Cobblestone Hotel will open this summer on Main Street in Little Chute. In addition, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley announced plans to open a second club location in Little Chute this spring, operating out of Little Chute Intermediate School and serving fifth- and sixth-graders four days per week during after-school hours.

In Greenville, the village hopes to continue to see the benefits of bringing an Amazon distribution center into the municipality. Community and Economic Development Director Michael J.D. Brown says he expects to see it spur spinoffs of secondary and tertiary businesses.

“It’s not only a benefit to Greenville but also to the surrounding communities in the Fox Cities region,” he says.

Valley Bakers is building a warehouse addition in Greenville’s industrial park, and Diamond H2O is doing an addition. Greenville also is working with Azco Inc. to develop 30 acres the company purchased in the village’s TID.