The City of Green Bay hopes if you build it, they will come, even if “it” isn’t a ballpark.
The original plan for the downtown Green Bay Shipyard development centered on landing the then-named Green Bay Bullfrogs Northwoods League baseball team — now called the Green Bay Booyah. The plan got upended when the team announced in February 2018 it would instead build its facility in Ashwaubenon.
While the departure dealt a blow to the project, Kevin Vonck, development director for the City of Green Bay, says it prompted the city to seek input from the public about what they wanted from the space. The feedback, which the city is collecting through this fall, has shown people want less athletic space and a greater focus on waterfront and other recreational amenities.
Engineering services company Stantec now serves as consultant for the project and worked with the city to develop a new concept plan, which the Green Bay City Council unanimously approved in July. The space would include a large lawn for concerts and festivals and expanded waterfront amenities, including a bigger beach, splash pad, hammock hangout area, playground and beer garden.
“(We hope) this will be an attraction people want to not only come to but hopefully make an investment in that neighborhood because of it,” Vonck says.
In addition to the recreational amenities, the concept includes plans for a container park, a development that would be a first for the region. In fact, Brian Johnson, executive director of On Broadway Inc., says the closest one he’s aware of is in Tulsa, Okla.
A container park uses shipping containers to develop a space comprised of outfits such as retailers, restaurants and service-based businesses. It’s constructed in a way that provides a density of businesses, Johnson says.
In designing the container park, Johnson says it ideally would include a variety of businesses that complement the overall feel of the park as well as drive foot traffic. Therefore, an insurance agency might not make a lot of sense, but a yoga studio would be a great addition, he says.
The park would serve residents as well as draw people who would go out of their way to see it, Johnson says. Furthermore, it would complement the commercial corridor in the Broadway District as well as adding more businesses.
“I think the novelty of that type of product will create interest amongst tourists and amongst those who want to go to Green Bay and check this out,” he says.
While wet weather has caused some delays to the project, transportation fuel management solutions company Breakthrough will begin work on its new headquarters in the Shipyard this fall. The company hopes to move into the 40,000-square-foot space in 2020.
Work in the Rail Yard development continues to move along as well. The city broke ground on infrastructure work at the beginning of summer. Donald Driver Way will be extended, as will Kellogg Street and Bond Street, which will then in turn connect to Donald Driver Way. The first set of condominium units has gone up and will be ready for occupancy this year.
Housing, restaurant boom
Housing options continue to grow throughout the city. In the Rail Yard, TWG Development is constructing Broadway Lofts, a working-class housing complex that includes a mix of subsidized housing. It will include a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments that will be rented to tenants making up to 80 percent of the area median income.
Jeff Mirkes, executive director of Downtown Green Bay Inc., says the desire to live downtown remains strong.
“We’ve known all along people want to live in a vibrant downtown,” he says. “For the past few years, we have an attitude that downtown needs to have 100 units under construction at all times, and that certainly seems to be happening among the three districts.”
In the Olde Main Street district, about 50 units, including apartments and townhomes, are either under construction or opening this fall. Across the street from Whitney Park, 901 Main has 20 units under construction and expected to be done by the end of the year.
The 100-year-old Whitney School is undergoing transformation into 23 one- and two-bedroom loft apartments. The developer, Milwaukee View, also has plans for 12 townhomes on the perimeter of the property, all surrounding a courtyard.
Mirkes says the Whitney Park area ties together recreation events and amenities including a coffee shop, dog park and performance space. All this serves as a catalyst for residential growth, he says.
Johnson says the city strives to offer diversified housing options. In addition to the Broadway Lofts, he and Vonck have explored a little-used provision with tax incremental districts that allows municipalities to extend the district for a year and use the funding for low- to moderate-income housing.
“Our goal is really about having diversified housing options,” Johnson says. “Everybody deserves a good, clean, safe environment to live.”
On the entertainment side, the Broadway District landed a Levitt AMP grant, which provided $25,000 in matching funds to put on free live music shows. The Tuesday night concerts, running in Leicht Memorial Park through Aug. 27, continue to grow in popularity, Johnson says.
The restaurant scene also is booming, Mirkes says, with the city becoming known for its concentration of some of the area’s top-tier eateries.
Chef Chris Wiltfang opened two restaurants in one building on Adams Street downtown. Casual eatery Skaliwags Burger Co. operates in the front, and the higher-end High Cotton Club offers a more intimate setting in the back. Republic Chophouse expanded, adding a wine wall with more than 2,000 bottles of wine, a patio for outdoor dining and two private dining rooms.
The high-end Hotel Northland, which opened in February, is going strong with its fine dining restaurant The Walnut Room and Poke the Bear sports restaurant. Mirkes says the hotel offers impressive hospitality and provides a unique venue for special events, including The Alley, a space for private parties that includes two bowling lanes, pool tables and shuffleboard.
Outside of downtown, Bay Beach Amusement Park continues to expand with the opening of the Big Wheel, the park’s new 100-foot Ferris wheel. Bay Beach is also looking at purchasing additional property east of the park and planning for the next phase of expansion, Vonck says.
High water has posed a challenge for development of the beachfront, but work is expected to get underway later this summer. The plan includes opening a 1,000-foot sand beach with a pier, boardwalk and wildlife viewing area. In June, the project received a $100,000 grant from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program.