When U.S. Venture announced plans to relocate its new corporate headquarters to downtown Appleton, it became a high-profile example of using a mixed-use, live-work-play development to create a vibrant downtown.
“I think the grand vision for a project like that is to incorporate a mixed-use component and bring in more commercial activity,” says Manny Vasquez, vice president of business development for Newmark Grubb Pfefferle in Appleton. “Naturally, a project like that attracts more development because you have hundreds of professionals coming to downtown Appleton, Monday through Friday.”
That alone will create more commercial, service and retail activity in the downtown, Vasquez says. That’s the goal of mixed-use development properties, which community leaders, planners and developers are embracing as a way to attract growth.
The U.S. Venture project, announced in December and planned for the site formerly occupied by Fox Banquets/Rivertyme Catering, is an example of a company that understands the trend, “which ties to their approach to talent retention and attraction,” Vasquez says. “They feel that being in a vibrant center of the city, they can retain and attract talent more effectively than if they’re not.”
The revived Appleton Public Library project is another example. The November 2017 request for proposals from the city and the library specifically called for a mixed-use development, highlighting the trend and the vision to create a private/public partnership, Vasquez says. A presentation of the recommended proposals was planned for a joint meeting of the library’s building committee and the city finance committee on Feb. 26.
“I think the city clearly sees the benefit of a mixed-use building, because now you increase exposure to services, the retail that’s around it and walkability for residents,” says Jennifer Stephany, executive director of Appleton Downtown Inc. “There’s just so many benefits to it.”
Mixed-use developments create social and economic benefits for neighborhoods, Stephany says. Those that combine retail on the ground floor with office space on middle floors and topped by residential create what Stephany calls a “trifecta of success.”
They also create shared community space, reducing the footprint of a building, which means you’re more likely to have room for a plaza or park where people can interact, she says. “It’s really the core of building people-centric cities that are more walkable and livable.”
Those kinds of urban corridors are attracting the book-end demographics — the younger professionals who aren’t ready for home ownership and retirees who are looking to downsize and be closer to amenities, Stephany says.
“I have this conversation so often with people I run into in our town,” she says. “They’re asking when the next residential development is coming, and can we put them on a list? This demand for residential in downtown corridors is real.”
While the New North region may not be as far along in this trend as large urban areas, communities in Northeast Wisconsin recognize the importance. Appleton’s comprehensive plan, updated in 2017, includes the potential for whole-block redevelopment with additional residential and mixed-use properties, Stephany says.
“We’re excited about what the future is going to bring,” she says. “The next three to five years in downtown Appleton are going to be transformational.”
Green Bay also has seen its share of transformation in the past few years.
The Titletown project near Lambeau Field includes several retail, tourism and recreational uses, and Phase 2 will include some residential. The construction of the Schreiber Foods corporate headquarters served as a catalyst to help fuel downtown growth, and the city has invested in several retail and residential projects, Vasquez said.
In March, Garritt Bader, founder and principal of GB Real Estate Investments, LLC in Green Bay, will open the new Rise & Grind co-working space above the Green Bay Public Library with Eric Hoopman, owner of the Oshkosh-based Rise & Grind and partner Eric Jandrain. The facility leases part of the previously vacant third floor of the library.
“I think most times when people hear ‘mixed use,’ they think automatically residential plus commercial, but mixed use can really be a number of different uses,” Bader says.
The library/co-working/café space will share a similar “urban chic” look to the Oshkosh location and will use the high-speed fiber-optic connectivity already available through the library.
“If we can help be a place where folks can work and grow a business, that’s what we want to do,” Bader says. “We’ve combined all the resources that the library has, in a downtown, central location, and find this great coming together of shared interests and benefits.”
Bader also is working on a proposed new three-story complex in the 900 block of Main Street that would contain commercial space on the ground floor and 20 residential apartments on the second and third. The apartments would be pet-friendly, complementing the nearby off-leash dog park at Whitney Park across the street.
“It’s awesome that we have creative entrepreneurs who are wanting to take on projects like this, and they are aware of the demand for unique spaces,” says Jeff Mirkes, executive director of Downtown Green Bay Inc.
Mirkes says the stronger demand for residential locations in the downtown has led to several mixed-use developments, including the 76-residential unit City Deck Landing, which also has retail space on the ground floor. Another is Metreau, a 107-unit residential facility with a small amount of retail availability.
The city has been working diligently to connect the Fox River State Recreational Trail and the East River Trail, increasing walkability for residents.
Additionally, the City of Green Bay has successfully removed blighted properties, including the former Jake’s Pizza building and Centerfold Lounge in the 1200 block of Main Street, where a proposed office/retail building by Cyrus Development Services of Texas is planned, Mirkes says.
“I think these projects feed one another, and confidence grows when the community, business leaders and government leaders see that this is a place where people want to be,” Mirkes says.