At one time, the joke might have been “don’t blink, you’ll miss Hobart.”
Not anymore. In fact, Hobart is well on its way to becoming the fastest-growing community in Wisconsin, with the Department of Administration projecting nearly 76 percent population growth by 2040, in large part fueled by more than $70 million in development occurring in the village since 2009.
But Hobart isn’t content just to become a bedroom community in the Greater Green Bay area. In an effort to create a sense of place for the village’s 7,600 residents, Hobart officials last month kicked off an aggressive plan that will create a downtown from scratch — a walkable mixed-use development that is part of the greater Centennial Centre at Hobart.
The planned development is pegged at $250 million, but could bring in more than $400 million in investment in the next five years.
“Five years ago, there was nothing out here but a bean field,” says Andrew Vickers, village administrator for Hobart. “It won’t be Main Street, but it will be a downtown. We want to make it a place where folks will want to congregate and recreate.”
Work on the latest piece of Hobart’s grand vision kicked off with a groundbreaking for Hobart Crossing, a $25 million planned luxury apartment development aimed at each end of the demographic spectrum, young professionals looking for that cool place to live and empty nesters who don’t want the maintenance burdens of home ownership.
Developers expect both will be interested for quality of life reasons, drawn by an active downtown with restaurants, boutique retail and other amenities.
“People today long for a sense of place,” says Steve Atkins of Atkins Building Group, part of the Centennial Centre Development Partnership. Atkins Building Group is also the general contractor.
Atkins likened the development of Centennial Centre to Celebration, Fla., the planned community developed by Walt Disney Company in the 1990s that is considered an example of the new urbanism movement of creating walkable communities.
“We’ve lost the old downtown, but that’s what people are longing for,” Atkins says.
For now, most of the vision of what will become the marketplace of Centennial Centre is still on paper. Work on Hobart Crossing has just begun and consists of a large hole in the ground as workers prepare the site for the apartments that will follow.
It’s still easier to envision the bean field, but that will be changing soon.
Included in the larger marketplace plan for Centennial Centre are commercial, retail and recreational developments on 75 acres (Click here to view the master plan.) The pedestrian-centered plan includes central village green, trails, a community center and several other public spaces for residents to congregate. The commercial components include two larger retail anchors — one is expected to be a grocery store — as well as service businesses and office space.
Both multi-unit and single-family housing are under development in Centennial Centre development, providing the frame that will give the next phase its downtown feel.
In all, Centennial Centre will encompass 616 acres.
As important as the developments will be to the future vitality of Hobart, city leaders also tout the way they have been able to support this latest growth. Village President Rich Heidel says all the projects launched since 2009 have been accomplished without state or federal incentives.
The development was launched to bring long-term economic sustainability to Hobart, an area still dominated by high-income residential housing and multi-generational farms.
He credits the approach of both the elected and executive leadership of the village, as well as the responsiveness of citizen boards that oversee development.
“If we need a special meeting to make something happen, then that is what we do. We don’t wait for the next regularly scheduled meeting,” Heidel says. “We launched this project in 2009 in the middle of the worst recession in 80 years. We’ve seen $100 million in commercial investment since 2011 and 200 net new jobs.”
And it’s been a largely local approach. Of the work done so far, 100 percent of the suppliers and subcontractors have facilities or are based in Wisconsin. Nearly 90 percent of them are from surrounding Brown, Outagamie and Oconto counties.
Hobart’s proximity to Green Bay has certainly helped with Hobart’s growth. As the largest city in Northeast Wisconsin, Green Bay is one of the economic engines driving greater Brown County and the region. The city has seen a renaissance of its own, and was recently named one of the best cities in America for the creative class.
Hobart’s latest development is along the Wisconsin Highway 29/32 corridor, essentially serving as the western gateway of the Greater Green Bay Area. It’s an attractive location for those who want to be close to the city’s amenities without living in the city.
Indeed, the village is home to several members of the Green Bay Packers.
The new development is expected to help keep pace with the village’s rapid residential growth and make it an attractive destination for residents and visitors to Brown County and the Greater Green Bay area.
“Hobart is a magnificent community to live in,” Vickers says. “This is about quality of life and the amenities we can offer those who live here.”
ON THE WEB
To learn more about the Centennial Centre in the Village of Hobart: www.BuildinHobart.com.
More on Main Street
Reviving Main Street has become a key component of other projects around Brown County.
In downtown De Pere, Starry Realty created both downtown offices and a community gathering space when the company renovated the historic Steckart-Falck building at 112 N. Broadway as its new offices. Not only will the space serve the realty company, but owner Rich Starry also plans for community groups to use the building and for hosting a “Starry Nights” music series.
Starry says he expects the building to help strengthen the community by giving those organizations a place to meet, as well as provide a boost to downtown and the De Pere economy as a whole.
Urban space boosters
Urban place makers in Green Bay received a boost from one of the city’s most recognizable brands.
The Green Bay Packers have purchased the naming rights for the plaza under development at the location of the former Coaches Corner restaurant for $200,000. Tentatively known as Packers Plaza, plans for the new gathering space include the Packers logo integrated into the pavement, as well as benches, café tables and outdoor lighting.
The plaza is expected to support the new KI Convention Center by providing an outdoor space for visitors.