Heating Up

Posted on Feb 1, 2011 :: Development
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Betsch Associates

It may be freezing outside, but there’s one place that’s heating up: Green Bay. Throughout the city, development is on the uptick, with $100 million of projects in 2010 – twice the number of what happened in 2009, says Derek Lord, economic development director for the City of Green Bay.
“Things are definitely improving and there are projects in industries across the board from health care and multi-family projects to commercial and industrial projects,” he says.

More than 100,000 people attended events and activities in downtown Green Bay during 2010 as the new City Deck drew attendees, says Jeff Mirkes, executive director of Downtown Green Bay Inc. Those people plus the thousands of workers who are downtown Monday through Friday combine to make the area vibrant.“The health of our downtown depends on how much activity there is and right now, it’s looking good,” Mirkes says.

In downtown Green Bay, WaterMark, a $12 million development on the east bank of the Fox River between Walnut and Main streets, finally secured financing

and is just waiting on the closing paperwork before construction begins, says developer John Vetter of Vetter Denk Architects. In the works since 2006, WaterMark will contain office and retail space, a parking garage, the Green Bay Children’s Museum and Hagemeister Park restaurant. Vetter Denk Architects of Milwaukee is the lead developer and owns the property where a Younkers department store once welcomed shoppers.

With financing for projects being a tougher sell, Vetter cobbled together a unique package that includes a $3.5 million loan from the City of Green Bay, a $4.5 million loan from Calumet County Bank and its partners and $2.1 million from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. Vetter Denk Architects is contributing about $1.7 million in equity for the project.

“This project will make a huge difference in the downtown,” Vetter says. “There’s so much energy surrounding it and it will vitalize the entire area. We feel it’s a perfect complement to City Deck.”
WaterMark will contain unique office space, which Mirkes says is essential since many of the area’s buildings are full, such as Nicolet National Bank and Bellin Building.
“When it comes to office space, we have great occupancy rates,” he says. (See “On the Waterfront,” page 44.)

In addition to WaterMark, other projects providing new life downtown include the remodeling of the former chamber of commerce building on South Washington for a new tenant. Smet Construction Services received $45,000 in TIF funds to renovate the former train depot’s interior.
Ten new businesses creating 54 jobs opened in the historic Broadway District during the past year, says Greg Larson, board president of On Broadway Inc., a non-profit Main Street Program dedicated to revitalizing and preserving the area.

“We’ve seen so much reinvestment in the district in the past 15 years. We have a very supportive community behind us and it allows us to excel in the projects we take on,” Larson says, adding that public and private investment in the district totaled $961,700 in 2010.

In addition to the WaterMark project, an expansion of the KI Convention Center and the conversion of an apartment building back into a hotel are also on the horizon, Mirkes says. He says the restoration of the nearby Hotel Northland, which was built in 1924 and used to be “the” place to be in the downtown, would be a huge asset to the downtown. The 10-story building currently houses apartments for low-income seniors and the disabled, but a new facility is being built elsewhere in the city where those residents will be moving.

“This is a huge opportunity for us in the downtown,” he says.
The future of Washington Commons, a now-empty shopping center, remains a key issue in the downtown, Mirkes says.

“We need to address the former mall site. We are confident that city leadership will move ahead and remove those buildings and prepare the site for more appropriate development,” he says, adding the space would be ideal for a corporation to set up its headquarters there. “We want companies to see downtown Green Bay as the place to be for their corporate offices.”

East-side growth

One area seeing significant growth is the I-43 Business Center, which currently has five projects under construction. “The east side is amazing with everything happening,” Lord says.
Projects under construction in the I-43 Business Center include:

» Port City Bakery, which does business as Alive and Kickin’ Pizza Crust, is adding an 18,000-square-foot expansion to its plant on Walker Drive. The $10 million project includes a warehouse, freezer and production space. The company also plans to create 28 new jobs over the next three years.
» Cherney Microbiological Services (profiled in the August 2010 issue of Insight) is tripling the size of its Huron Road facility expanding its chemistry department by 300 percent. The company hopes to double its current staff of about 40 within two years.
» Dell’s Service Center is also building in the I-43 Business Center. This is the second expansion for the business, which also has shops in Ashwaubenon and Oconto Falls. Owner D.J. Lubenske chose the east side of Green Bay to locate the business because of the area’s growth.
» Hansen Frozen Food, a private label pizza manufacturer for fund-raising services, is constructing a 7,000-square-foot addition to its current facility on Goddard Way, valued at $600,000.
» O’Reilly Auto Parts is building a new 7,442-square-foot store on the east side of the city, valued at $500,000.

“All of these projects are a sign things are slowly getting better,” Lord says. “Also, it’s a sign there was pent-up demand for some very successful businesses in Green Bay