The Fox River — the foundation of Oshkosh as a manufacturing center in the last century — will once again lead the city’s growth.
New projects are starting to rise up on cleared sites that once housed the city’s manufacturing past. A new apartment complex opened its doors on what was a longtime vacant lot that held factories and Universal Foundry. Another parcel of land along the river, at the corner of Marion Road and Jackson Street, has also sparked some interest in redevelopment. Located along the river, the parcel sits next to City Center, previously a downtown shopping mall that now houses companies such as EastBay and Silver Star Brands.
The developer eyeing the parcel is working on putting together a mixed-use development that will bring commercial business and people back to the area, says Darryn Burich, planning director for the City of Oshkosh.
“We want more residential in the downtown area, specifically along the river,” Burich says. “Having more residential opportunities downtown will help support some of those economic developments like revitalization of the downtown/Main Street area and the Riverwalk.”
The latest developments are building on the success of the Oshkosh Riverwalk project, approved in 2006 with additions scheduled for the next several years. The Fox River has been a long recognized asset of the city, and the project focuses on developing a continuous Riverwalk, on both sides of the river, between Wisconsin Street and Lake Winnebago.
The first phase of the project features the Leach Amphitheater and Riverside Park. As more land and building development takes place, these will connect to the Riverwalk.
“We are trying to emulate Milwaukee’s Riverwalk, so when a development goes in, the Riverwalk will be in front of it,” Burich says.
Not only will the riverfront have a new look and updated design, but the activity there has already begun to revitalize the adjacent downtown.
“You are going to see a lot of partnerships come together for a new day and age for Oshkosh’s downtown, and when this happens the plan is really going to take off,” says Jason White, CEO of Greater Oshkosh. “We have a lot of historic buildings that are within a block or two from the downtown area, and I think you are going to see more developers and investors looking at opportunity in housing for millennials.”
Sometimes the improvement is by demolition. Just down the road from Main Street, a long-anticipated site is getting some needed attention. In December, the City of Oshkosh Common Council approved a plan to demolish the abandoned Buckstaff furniture factory site.
The city expects demolishing the buildings on the Buckstaff property will cost more than $700,000, which also includes the proper removal of asbestos, and planners are already deciding on what to do with the site once deals are made and the buildings come down.
“The city has been working as aggressively as they can with the owner of the building and the bank that has the building,” White says. “There are many ideas floating around of what could possibly be done with the nearly eight-acre lot.”
Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corporation (GOEDC) was established in May 2014 as Oshkosh’s first public/private partnership for economic development. The mission of Greater Oshkosh represents a new organizational and delivery model for economic development-related services.
White says by working in partnership with private individuals and businesses, it promotes progress to collaborate and find ways for betterment of the city and surrounding regional area.
“We are always looking ahead and what we are going to do next is to try and find capital for helping small businesses and new businesses start and take off in our community,” White says. “Our whole purpose is to make deals, and in this business, you can’t expect to work one-on-one with the city or business.”
About two-thirds of Greater Oshkosh’s funding comes from non-governmental sources such as other foundations in the Greater Oshkosh region that chose to invest over one
or a multi-year period, White says. The rest comes from local government sources such as the city, county
White says most deals get done with both the public and private sector coming together and sitting around the same table because government and businesses see the world very differently. This is where Greater Oshkosh comes in.
“We act as a liaison/facilitator between the public and private sector to broker deals,” White says.
Aviation business cluster
A larger-scale project that Greater Oshkosh is currently working on is strengthening the aviation business cluster. Oshkosh is well known in the aviation industry because of the work of companies such as the Experimental Aircraft Association, Basler Turbo Conversions and
Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on the strong aviation presence and reputation Oshkosh has, groups such as AeroInnovate are working closely with Greater Oshkosh to attract aviation-related business and manufacturing growth within the Oshkosh region.
“AeroInnovate is a big partner of ours and there are many companies they are currently working with,” White says. “They will give us more established, bigger businesses to help fill the aviation business park and they will only strengthen the businesses that already operate here.”
For those who have worked for many years on trying to get the ball rolling on an aviation business park, Greater Oshkosh is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“The fact that we were able to come together from both the private and public sector to create GOEDC, I think was a huge win for Oshkosh,” says Meridith Jaeger, executive director at Wisconsin Family Business Forum at UWO, and founder of AeroInnovate. “The possibilities that are going to come from this will only strengthen the local economy.”
The aviation business park, which is 80 acres of vacant land located just south of Ripple Road between Oregon Street and the runway, will house maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) type businesses. Jaeger says this short-term goal will play well off of the manufacturing industry in
“We know there are aging aircraft out there and they are going to need to be repaired and refurbished,” Jaeger says. “This happens to be a strength of ours with skilled manufacturing and maintenance programs like avionics and pilot training courses that Fox Valley Technical College offers.”
As technology and manufacturing continue to evolve, Jaeger says Oshkosh will be a destination for startups and other businesses.
“AeroInnovate can really foster those early technologies and those early start-up companies and we can connect them with many resources that they need to grow their businesses,” Jaeger says. “People will go where the resources are, and if we are providing those resources I truly believe they will move here and put their roots in the ground to grow their business here.”
“This is the place to be because of the priorities,” White says. “This community has the right priorities and they are in all of the right places, and even though it might take a few years to get there, the successful redevelopments that already took place sets the tone for what is to come in the future.”