The water has always been important to Door County.
Snugly sandwiched between Green Bay on the west and Lake Michigan on the east, water has always played an important role in the region’s development, from its fisheries to its shipyards to its more recent history as a mecca for tourists.
Water, and public access to it, are key drivers in one of the newest developments in Door County, Sturgeon Bay’s multi-million-dollar West Waterfront, a 3.5-acre, place-making development between the Maritime Museum and Oregon Street Bridge.
Developed as a public-private partnership, plans are already underway for a publicly-financed festival dock, pedestrian plaza and event stage. Private developers are lining up financing for a planned four-story hotel expected to spur private development of the area and create a walkable space of waterfront amenities and commerce.
“We are looking at that whole area getting a total makeover,” says Bill Chaudoir, executive director of the Door County Economic Development Corporation. “We are looking for construction to start by summer.”
The hotel is a key component of what planners consider the first phase of the development. The city of Sturgeon Bay recently approved the zoning for the planned $8 million project. The city is expecting to contribute about $1.8 million in public amenities and infrastructure for the first phase, expected to be complete in spring of 2016.
Once constructed, the hotel will represent the first new hotel rooms added to the county’s inventory since 2000, says Jack Moneypenny, president and CEO of the Door County Visitor’s Bureau.
In a region where tourism is a vital sector of the economy, the new rooms are a welcome addition for business.
“We have been seeing good growth from 2009 to 2014,” Moneypenny says. “We haven’t had many properties close, but we’ve had the same inventory since 2000.”
The proposed hotel has overcome opposition that included arguments the region’s hotel operators are still struggling to fill existing rooms. Others objected the proposal was rushed and there was not enough public input into the process of shaping the vision for the site.
Visitors directly spent nearly $300 million in Door County in 2013, an increase of 3.45 percent from 2012, according to the latest data published by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. Total business activity related to tourism exceeded $381 million, an increase of nearly 4 percent.
The tourism industry supported more than 3,000 jobs in Door County and generated nearly $33 million in state and local taxes in 2013, according to the data.
While Door County’s tourism industry may have fared better than other regions during the Great Recession — it’s less dependent on convention business and has always been a popular short-stay destination — tourism officials are seeing a resurgence in advance bookings that should bode well for the new rooms once they are online.
With the hotel component of the West Waterfront Development heading into the construction phase, Sturgeon Bay planners are already working on a second phase. It includes more than $5 million in development for the public amenities, plus an anticipated $11 million in private investment, most of which will be centered around the redevelopment of the old granary.
Requests for proposals have already been solicited, and while the granary has long had a place on the city’s waterfront, planners are willing to consider projects that both renovate the structure or demolish it to make way for other improvements to the property.
“Everything is on the table,” says Martin Olejniczak, community development director for the city of Sturgeon Bay. “It could be mixed use or retail. At one point, there was discussion of a public market for that space. We’ve not tried to lock ourselves into anything.”
Proposals are due in early June. Depending on the complexity of the projects, city planners would like to see work on this phase of the development completed in 2018. The city has three key objectives for the overall development:
» Opening up the waterfront area to the public
» Promoting waterfront activities, amenities and commerce
» Creating a unique destination complementing the existing facilities and amenities in the area
In addition to the developments directly on the waterfront, Olejniczak says two adjacent sites not owned by the city have attracted private developers and could further bolster the area. Other related projects include the Maritime Museum’s plans to construct a 100-foot observation tower.
Public access will be an important aspect of the overall development, and the city will retain ownership of the 1.5 acres of waterfront that will host the festival pier, event stage and other amenities.
As it has in the past, the water has been key to sparking new development. After decades of industrial development along the water, the city began using the waterfront as an asset for public developments in the early 1990s when the Maritime Museum was built along with Stone Harbor and Bridgeport.
A second round of waterfront developments began with the redevelopment of the Peterson Builders shipyard. That led to the construction of the marina and a condominium development that is still unfinished because of funding problems from the Great Recession.
Olejniczak says the city is optimistic that project can soon restart.
On the Water II
Not be outdone by its neighbors to the north, Kewaunee County has also turned to the waterfront for new development opportunities.
The city of Kewaunee and the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corporation recently sought statements of qualification for developers to take the lead in developing a 3.5-acre site within Kewaunee Harbor. The city would like to see a mixed-use development on the site.
The intent of the request for qualifications is to find interested developers who can provide the experience and capacity to design, finance, develop and construct a project suitable for the site, which is the former Klockner Property, 97 Ellis St.