INSIGHT ON: Economic Development – Transformation time

Posted on Jun 1, 2014 :: Economic Development , Insight On
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer
The completion of the renovated Houdini Plaza (foreground) boosted downtown Appleton in 2013. Other downtown projects in the works include a new library on the current site of Trinity Lutheran Church and Fox Banquets & Rivertyme Catering as well as a new expo center behind the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel.

The completion of the renovated Houdini Plaza (foreground) boosted downtown Appleton in 2013. Other downtown projects in the works include a new library on the current site of Trinity Lutheran Church and Fox Banquets & Rivertyme Catering as well as a new expo center behind the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel. Photo courtesy Craig Augustine and Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau

Downtown Appleton may have a completely different look by the end of the decade if two large development projects continue to move forward.

This spring, two long-discussed projects – a new Appleton Public Library and the Fox Cities Expo Center – have taken big steps forward. The library board voted to build a new library overlooking the Fox River on the site where Trinity Lutheran Church and Fox Banquets & Rivertyme Catering now stand, while the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region stepped forward to announce it would invest $5 million in bonds for a new downtown exposition center, which would be located behind the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel.

Another less visible project is also in the works: a detailed downtown parking study scheduled to begin later this year.

“By 2017, the landscape of our downtown will be changed dramatically. All of these developments will attract both new people and new money to our district,” says Jennifer Stephany, executive director of Appleton Downtown Inc.

With the $40 million library project, a new 120,700-square-foot facility would be constructed. The current library site could then be used by the city for other possible uses. The goal is to complete the project in 2017.

“The new library will also bring a heightened image to the downtown and our community. The library is not just a collection of materials, but it’s really a community gathering place,” Stephany says. “The site has a lot of visibility. We like the opportunity of looking at synergy between the YMCA, (Lawrence University) and the new library.”

As for the convention center, an updated market study shows the 62,000-square-foot facility would generate $6.5 million in economic impact annually, says Pam Seidl, executive director of the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The $28 million center (the costs have crept upward since the project was first announced because of increased costs associated with construction and rising interest rates) fills a valuable need in the area, Seidl says.

“We really need a flat, open space for trade shows. When you look at how meeting planners pick their locations, they look for plenty of hotel rooms, which we have, and smaller meeting rooms for breakout sessions as well as a larger ballroom for meals, which we also have at the Radisson,” she says. “The missing piece is the space for the
trade shows.”

Convention-goers spend an average of $125.54 per person, per night and stay an average of 3.4 nights, according to data gathered by the convention bureau in 2013, Seidl says.

“Convention attendees do generate a lot of income in our community and we need to expand our offerings to stay competitive,” she says. “We have had several groups that have outgrown us. They like coming to Appleton, but we no longer have what they need for their events.”

As for the Community Foundation’s involvement, CEO Curt Detjen says the $5 million would come from the foundation’s endowment and will be paid back through the proposed hotel room tax increase in the Fox Valley.

The City of Appleton agreed to spend $3.8 million to prepare the site for development. The site currently is a parking lot owned by Outagamie County that overlooks Jones Park.

Both projects follow another downtown project that was finished last year after years of planning – the renovation of Houdini Plaza. Stephany says that project really elevated the city’s image.

“The downtown is the centerpiece of our community and you always want to put your best foot forward. We have visitors here, whether it’s for conferences at the Radisson or people visiting companies like ThedaCare, and they are downtown and you want to set the right image for our community,” she says.

Industrial growth

Several manufacturers in the Fox Cities are also growing, expanding their facilities and hiring more employees.

Technical Prospects LLC in Grand Chute recently opened a new $2 million training center that will eventually create 37 jobs. The two-story training center will enable the company to launch its training program for clinical and biomedical engineers who service Siemens Medical Imaging Equipment. Technical Prospects will train medical staff on how to service and maintain their own equipment, which will result in significant cost savings to hospitals and other medical facilities.

In Kaukauna, Poly Flex broke ground in early May on a $4 million, 59,000-square-foot facility. The company is new to the area and the plastics manufacturing company was attracted to the area by the Fox Cities Regional Partnership.

An estimated 40 jobs will be created when the manufacturer opens, says Larry Burkhardt, executive vice president of the partnership.

“This one represents the first time we have been able to work on somebody coming from outside the area into this region, so we are very pleased about it,” he says.

FVTC projects move ahead

Construction crews work on the exterior of Fox Valley Technical College’s new Student Success Center, set to open in August. The center was part of the 2012 public referendum that allowed for several expansions and new buildings for FVTC. Courtesy FVTC

Construction crews work on the exterior of Fox Valley Technical College’s new Student Success Center, set to open in August. The center was part of the 2012 public referendum that allowed for several expansions and new buildings for FVTC. Photo courtesy FVTC

Crews continue to work on construction projects approved by voters in a $66.5 million referendum in 2012 that expanded the main campus in Grand Chute and outlined plans for the 75-acre Public Safety Training Center located at the Outagamie County Regional Airport in Grand Chute.

In the past year, changes at the main FVTC campus include the expansion of its Service Motor Company Agriculture Center to help address an 87 percent growth in that program since 2008; the opening of a three-story Health Simulation & Technology Center; and the expansion of its J.J. Keller Transportation Center to meet increased demands in the automotive, diesel tech and truck driving industries.

Construction at the main campus continues on its two-story Student Success Center, which will feature spaces for flexible and collaborative learning. That facility will open in August and has additional room for the college’s growing general studies, adult basic education and English Language Learning programs.

The Public Safety Training Center will open next year and includes training facilities for law enforcement, firefighting, emergency medical services and a mock village that will provide realistic settings for multi-agency scenario-based training.