From downtown housing developments and industrial warehouses to entertainment venues and a reimagined library, the pandemic has not slowed economic development projects in the City of Appleton.
One of the largest projects underway is at the intersection of Midway Road and Eisenhower Drive, where the F Street Group has begun construction on a new 218,240-square-foot industrial warehouse building. F Street owns 50 acres in the Southpoint Commerce Park and plans to lease the building to businesses looking for warehouse and distribution space.
Once the first building is leased, construction will begin on another building with plans calling for construction of up to four facilities, says Mike Doney, F Street’s director of marketing.
“The plan over the next three phases is building an additional 750,000 square feet, bringing it up to almost 1 million square feet” of warehouse space, he says, adding construction will cost about $13 million, with buildouts for tenants taking the final costs higher.
“We chose Appleton (for this project) because of the continuous growth trend in the area with regards to industry and workforce talent, while also focusing on areas with low vacancy rates and pent-up demand for industrial product,” Doney says.
F Street will use almost $2 million in commercial property assessed clean energy (C-PACE) to finance energy efficiency measures for the construction of the site’s first building. The project represents Calumet County’s first C-PACE project since adopting the program last year.
F Street incorporated C-PACE financing as part of its capital stack as a low-cost financing solution compared to traditional equity. As is the case with most of its projects, it completed an equity raise with its investor group to secure the equity funds necessary to construct this project. Using C-PACE for this project provided a significant boost to the equity investors.
With vacancy levels at 2.3 percent and pent-up demand in the Fox Valley for Class A Industrial product, Doney says there is a significant opportunity, and the development is fulfilling a need, making it a good time for F Street to embark on these construction projects.
The demand for downtown housing remains high as new projects are launched and other ones are completed, says Karen Harkness, director of community development for the City of Appleton.
Two projects that opened in 2020 — Gabriel Lofts, which includes 21 units, and Avant Apartments, which includes 33 market-rate apartments — are filling up, showing the strong demand for housing, Harkness says.
There are also three other residential projects under construction in the downtown: the Crescent Lofts, which is remaking the former Post-Crescent building into 58 low- to moderate-income apartments and 11 market-rate units with the help of historic tax credits and WHEDA funding; 800 Block LLC, which is on the 800 block of West College Avenue and features first-floor commercial space and 20 market-rate apartments; and 320 E. College Ave., a $10 million, six-story, mixed-used building from Tadych Investment Properties that will feature 3,000 square feet of commercial space and 39 market-rate apartments.
“Once the five projects are all done, we will have added 182 units of housing to downtown, which is so important. There’s definitely a need for more,” Harkness says.
In the flats, RiverHeath completed its largest building yet, Willow, and is building an event space. In addition, one trail was added over the Fox River this past summer with another one under construction. “People are drawn to outdoor activities, and the addition of the trails along with the ones already in place are a real asset to the flats and the whole downtown,” Harkness says.
Harkness noted the pandemic and resulting economic tumult led the Fox River Navigational System Authority, which runs the locks on the Fox River, to scuttle its plans for a visitor center in the flats. “That was going to be a nice project, so it was hard to see it go,” she says.
A move forward
After remaining in a holding pattern for several years as discussions swirled about whether to build a new library or expand on its current site, the city is moving forward with plans to renovate or reconstruct a new library at its current site. The 2021 budget includes $2.4 million for architectural design work and then $12 million in both 2022 and 2023 for construction.
The decision to work with the current site was made after the city initially planned to build a new library on the site of the current Soldiers Square parking garage. Mayor Jake Woodford says working with the other site was more complicated since the city could not move forward until construction began on the nearby bluff sites, as the YMCA needed the area for its parking garage until additional parking was built.
“We were just waiting for a lot of pieces to fall into place and took a second look at the current site and see the work done there as a catalyst project for the neighborhood,” Woodford says. “This also allows the YMCA to move ahead and do what they need to with the parking garage.”
Across Washington Street from the library property, Merge Development has an option on the site of the former Blue Parking Ramp and Conway Hotel.
“There’s a lot of positives happening now in that neighborhood and we want to add to it,” Woodford says.
As for the bluff sites, U.S. Venture owns site No. 1 (where Fox Banquets and Rivertyme Catering and Trinity Lutheran Church were previously located) and is doing its due diligence on building a new corporate headquarters. Woodford says the city’s role is to do what it can to be of help as the Combined Locks-based company considers its options.
“I’m optimistic this project will happen. U.S. Venture owns the land and has taken down all of the buildings,” he says.
Bluff site No. 2 is co-owned by U.S. Venture and the YMCA. Since the land owned by U.S. Venture for its new headquarters contains Mosaic Family Health, the health care provider will need to relocate, possibly to a location on bluff site No. 2.