Greg Pierce, president and CEO of Oshkosh-based Windward Wealth Strategies, led the successful effort to lure the Milwaukee Bucks D-League franchise to Oshkosh. Passionate about both sport and its economic development potential, he sat down with Insight Associate Editor Sean Johnson to discuss how basketball could help the city’s near-south side rebound economically.
WITH THIS EFFORT, WE SAW AN opportunity to marry an investment opportunity, a passion in sports and a need for development in Oshkosh.
About a year and a half ago, we became aware of where the City of Oshkosh was headed with the Buckstaff property. What people didn’t notice behind all those buildings is a beautiful view of Lake Winnebago. There was just really a lack of ideas about what to do. In terms of development, and really maximizing the potential of that property, there was nothing being thought about at the time.
It started as a baseball project. I love baseball and minor league baseball, and wood bat league stuff can be a great business, but we are surrounded by it, so we went from that to basketball because we figured out that the NBA was requiring all NBA teams to have development league teams. The Bucks did not have one, and the move with almost every one of them was within 100 miles of home.
I’m kind of a professional fan. I travel a lot for work. If I have time, rather than sit in a hotel room, I’ll go to a game. I’d been in stadiums throughout the country and kind of just an observer of what goes on. We saw this movement that’s happening, that you’re now getting with the Titletown District in Green Bay and the entertainment block the Bucks are creating in Milwaukee. You’re building these year-round facilities that can handle and help finance these projects, because without them, you can’t make a go of it 30 times a year. We figured out that we could do a mini version of the entertainment block with some bars, restaurants, retail, and then there’s definitely office space needs in this area of Oshkosh. We have interest from health care. We could possibly locate a clinic on-site. We may do condos or multifamily.
If you look at the Sawdust District plan, about half of it is going to be things that we’ve proposed to do or move forward on. In that broader plan is a plan for a second, larger arena. If you look at youth sports tourism, there’s a lot going on in the state of Wisconsin that’s outdoor. There are not a lot of indoor court facilities, though, and when you get to ice, it’s even worse. We believe that second building, beyond being a bigger facility to handle a D-League team as the D-League grows and expands, is a youth sports opportunity. We can create opportunity for attracting people to the community all year round.
We’ve been approached for conventions such as a political party hosting a state convention in our building. We’ve had a gymnastics regional tournament talk about hosting with us. We’ve had people talk to us about Christmas parties. We have three lounges where we can accommodate anywhere from 140 to over 200 people in a nice lounge that has a unique setting that oversees the arena. It’s been all over the map. Just from a concert standpoint, we have three different settings that we can really make a profitable deal at 1,000 or 1,500 people.
That all fits the idea of an entertainment district. We need to generate traffic through there. What’s interesting is almost all of them are new ideas. (It’s not) like we’re displacing anybody from anywhere else. Many of them are new things.
Look at how many people turn out for things like Waterfest in Oshkosh every Thursday in the summer and Country USA and all these things. The Timber Rattlers are a model franchise in Class A baseball in terms of what they draw for attendance. Look at the Packers being the story that they are. There are sports fans here. We feel pretty good about that. That’s what our message has been. The building is getting built because of a basketball team. We wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for that, but look what else can happen from here and what else this can spur. It has been absolutely unbelievable.