Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt once asked a group at a business event to “pardon our dust” while reassuring them they would like what they saw when the work was done.
The comments seemed appropriate as the group lunched at the KI Convention Center, which was undergoing a massive renovation and expansion at the time, along with several other downtown projects that were kicking up dust and changing the look — and perception — of Green Bay.
Indeed, the pardon still seems to be appropriate. While Schmitt may not have anticipated the building boom going on this long, new projects adding unique amenities to life in Green Bay have spread from the downtown area all across the city.
When the dust settles, a very different urban area will emerge.
“It seems like Green Bay is finally turning the corner and coming around,” says Brian Johnson, executive director of On Broadway, Inc., an organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in Green Bay’s historic Broadway District. “If we are going to attract the talent we need, then we have to have the amenities that talent is looking for. These days, economic development is about talent.”
As Green Bay has begun to emerge as a hot city for young professionals to consider — it has recently been ranked tops as a place for recent college graduates and also as a top city for young professionals — that talent will have a lot more to consider than it did just a few short years ago.
OK, so this one is just over the border into neighboring Ashwaubenon, but the reality is nothing quite says Green Bay like the Packers.
After several quiet years of planning and acquiring properties around Lambeau Field, the NFL franchise launched into construction of Phase I of its planned 34-acre Titletown development in late 2016 and plans to have it ready to open in stages this fall. Major anchors such as Hinterland and Lodge Kohler have already opened their doors.
While the area to the west of the stadium may look like a giant sandbox, the public park and sledding hill take a lot less imagination to see these days as crews work to complete the initial phase of the project, which is expected to serve as a community gathering space and attraction drawing folks to the stadium area
for things other than Sunday football games.
“We really see it as an opportunity to transform the community,” says Ed Policy, vice president and general counsel for the Packers. “We want people to come out and play in Green Bay year-round.”
There will be plenty of play opportunities available. In addition to the sledding hill and ice rink and skate trail, the Phase I development includes a public plaza, activity areas and public park. As plans for the area developed, the Packers met with neighbors and other parties to discuss ways the amenities can be used, from concerts to open space to be enjoyed.
As Phase I takes shape, it will become the central gathering space for Phase II, which is still in the early planning phases, but is envisioned as a mix of residential and commercial development that will create a unique neighborhood to the stadium’s west.
The Packers have spent more than $65 million in the development of Phase I and the cumulative investment in the district has topped $130 million.
One area that has not seen a lot of development interest the past few years is the southern end of the downtown along Broadway. That’s changing with a proposal to build a waterfront entertainment complex that could spark a renewed interest in the neighborhood.
Known as The Shipyard, the project would invest more than $13 million to convert vacant, city-owned property along the Fox River into a multi-use sports, restaurant and concert venue. The development would feature a $9 million, 3,500-person venue to host Green Bay Bullfrogs games, high school sports, concerts and other events.
Anduzzi’s Sports Club plans a $2 million restaurant as part of the development on the northwest end of the stadium, while Mark Skogen, the CEO of Festival Foods, has plans to invest $2.5 million in an indoor, 2,000-person concert venue and event space at the southwest corner.
While overall approval has been delayed while financing is worked out, the city’s Redevelopment Authority is expected to review a new plan in the next few months, and the Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District recently pledged $500,000 toward the project.
The project will be a welcome investment in the southern end of Broadway, says On Broadway’s Johnson, and could provide the same type of boost the Larsen Green project did for the northern end of downtown.
“It gives the southern end of the district a different dynamic and has all the makings of a year-round attraction,” Johnson says.
As more people come to the Shipyard area, it will spur other economic and neighborhood developments, creating a higher quality of life for the whole area, he says. The ability to locate such a venue on the waterfront is pretty unique and the type of amenity young professionals and other urbanites look for when shopping for a city to work and play in.
“It’s filling a void that exists in the market,” he says.
Whitney Park area
School may be out, but the historic Whitney School is definitely in demand.
Developer MKE View LLC wants to convert the schoolhouse on North Webster Avenue into 23 one- and two-bedroom apartments. As part of the proposed $10 million project, another 17 townhouses built along Pine, Van Buren and Cherry streets would mix modern designs with architectural features of the school building.
The project is expected to boost the revitalization efforts of both the downtown and Whitney Park areas.
The project was inspired by developer Garritt Bader’s decision to build townhouses adjacent to Whitney Park. Those 10 townhouses quickly sold as they were completed between 2013 and 2015.
“This hits a lot of our objectives from a city perspective,” says Kevin J. Vonck, economic development director for the city of Green Bay. “We are adding new structures and investing in the neighborhood. It’s not downtown, but it’s not the suburbs. It’s a good mix of new and existing uses that fit the neighborhood and the historic structure.”
The city of Green Bay will provide tax increment financing for the project, and the developers are also planning to apply for historic tax credits to help offset the project’s costs.