INSIGHT ON: Economic Development – The bright lights of Broadway

Posted on Aug 1, 2015 :: Economic Development
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer
Courtesy: Meyer Theatre

The Meyer Theatre recently completed its Backstage at the Meyer project, a mix of performance and hospitality space for the theater, as well as second floor offices that have been occupied by Breakthrough Fuel. Courtesy: Meyer Theatre

The lights definitely shine a little brighter on Broadway these days.

Green Bay’s Broadway district, once one of the most problem-plagued areas of Green Bay’s downtown core, celebrated another milestone in a 30-year renaissance earlier this summer when New Town Redevelopment received approval to build the $5 million Barracks at Fort Howard, a mixed-use development featuring condominiums, retail and underground parking.

In addition to adding much needed housing to the downtown area — the city has seen a surge of demand from empty-nesters and young professionals wanting to live downtown — the new building’s construction caps a series of recent developments in the Broadway District, making it an urban area that’s become a real draw.

Perhaps no one is enjoying it more than Bill Bongle.

“In 1995, the Broadway District was not a place you wanted to be,” says Bongle, a retired Green Bay police officer who patrolled the area in the mid-1990s. “It was economically depressed and it was not uncommon to have shootings, stabbings or problems with prostitution. What people saw was people passed out on the street or in public spaces.”

At that time, the Broadway District was largely bars Bongle describes as “beer and shot” taverns, along with lots of empty storefronts. Bongle remembers 1995 as the year he and his partner Steve Scully got out of the squad car and began talking to, and working with, local residents and business owners on the problems facing the district. Instead of accepting the status quo, he says they forged a cooperative vision of what the district could become.

While the neighbors and police lobbied the city to crack down on the alcohol and other crime-related problems, others formed a Main Street organization to support business growth. That would eventually become the On Broadway organization that promotes the area and organizes the events that draw thousands to the district.

“Where there was once no development, now you have the market and shops,” Bongle says. “It’s a great example of how community policing can really work.”

There’s certainly plenty to do and see in the Broadway District now.

The Farmers’ Market on Broadway is the second largest in the state of Wisconsin. Now in its 12th year, the market brings more than 200 vendors to Broadway on Wednesday nights during the summer, attracting thousands looking for fresh produce, entertainment or just to hang out and sample the scene.

On Broadway also organizes the annual Taste on Broadway, a one-night event that attracts nearly 20,000 people.

Taste on Broadway draws thousands to the district. Courtesy: On Broadway

Taste on Broadway draws thousands to the district. Courtesy: On Broadway

This year’s event is Aug. 13. Other events include the annual Holidays on Broadway and Lighting Ceremony on Broadway, as well as attractions such as Food Truck Friday.

It’s about creating a sense of place that will bring people to the area.

“On Broadway’s goal has always been to create an environment that encourages walking in and to our district, enjoying the downtown amenities including the waterfront and providing an atmosphere that gives the community another reason to be down here,” says Tara Gokey, the organization’s executive director.

That traffic is what has helped to fuel the recent developments in the district, including the new condo project that New Town Development — which includes DeLeers Construction and Creative Business Services — plan to begin by next spring. The project is located at a vacant site across from the Titletown Brewing Co.’s new tap room.

“People want to be close to downtown,” says Kevin Vonck, director of economic development for the city of Green Bay. “We’ve got a lot of apartments also going up, but these are condos, which is a bit different because of the ownership aspect. This is just really becoming a vibrant part of downtown.”

Vonck says the turnaround for the Broadway District really became apparent about 15 years ago, but the past five have seen excitement and investment in the area which have attracted the interest in residential development.

“A lot of the credit has to go to the retailers who stepped up and pushed to make things better,” he says. “There is a great sense of place in that area now. They have done a great job of creating a unique urban experience.”

In addition to the Barracks project, two other projects bordering the district will help create additional residential options for those seeking an urban living experience. The $15 million Metreau Apartment project, located at the corner of Walnut and Washington streets, is also expected to come online in 2016, while work is also under way on the mixed-use Watermark development at Washington and Pine streets.

The greater downtown area has become attractive for employees of the businesses that have invested in new buildings in the area, making it convenient to go out for lunch or dinner after work.

That urban employee experience was part of the attraction for Breakthrough Fuel to lease the entire second floor of Backstage at the Meyer, a renovation of the former Daily Planet building, which had been vacant for nearly 15 years.

The move will add another 20 employees to the mix of folks working in the Broadway district.

The renovation project also expands the space the Meyer can use for its programming and events, and features a rooftop deck for small celebrations.

“This has just been a wonderful project to work on,” says Jeff Mirkes, president of the Meyer board of directors. “There are so many great things happening.”

The Meyer’s new rooftop event space will be joined by another rooftop venue in the near future. Titletown Brewing, in continuing its renovation of the former Larsen Cannery building for its expanded brewery, tap room and retail space, also plans a rooftop beer garden. The $5 million project not only increased the capacity of the brewery, but was an important investment for owner Brent Weycker, who grew up and worked in the Broadway District.

“It can be hard to believe sometimes that it is the same place,” Bongle says. “Now, I’m OK bringing my kids and grandkids there. I’m down there quite a bit.”

Hot spot
The greater Green Bay downtown area has been a Mecca for development the past several years. Some of the recent projects include:

Associated Banc-Corp Headquarters Associated Banc-Corp brings approximately 500 new employees and $20 million of combined payroll to downtown Green Bay. Additionally, the headquarters hosts daily visits from its regional partners and associates alike.

Schreiber Foods Headquarters Schreiber Foods completed its corporate headquarters and global technology center in downtown Green Bay on the site of the former Washington Commons and J.C. Penney buildings. This $60 million development project brings more than 400 jobs for the next 40 years.

KI Convention Center Expansion Already a first class venue that hosts more than a quarter of a million visitors annually, local officials are working to complete a $20 million expansion of the facility that is projected to add an additional 70,000 visitors, $4 million in direct economic impact and 450 jobs to Green Bay.

A new waterfront 107-unit housing project titled “Metreau” is slated to come online in the spring of 2016. The cosmopolitan design and amenities embrace the urban lifestyle options sought by the emerging Green Bay creative class, young professionals and empty nesters alike.

City Deck Landing
Wisconsin developer T. Wall Enterprises has a new $10 million, 84- unit apartment development that will include ground floor retail and 101 indoor parking stalls. The project will front Washington Street and City Deck. City Deck is an active urban boardwalk directly along the Fox River’s edge hosting year ’round events that bring upwards of 165,000 visitors downtown.

Meyer Theatre
The Meyer Theatre, which hosts events for 70,000 patrons annually, is adding “Backstage at the Meyer.” The $4.5 million development is part expansion, part historic preservation, adding 12,000 square feet of hospitality and office space.

La Crosse-based developers Three Sixty Real Estate Solutions have have taken over the six story, multi-million dollar project, which includes the former Younkers department store on the east bank of the Fox River. The entire complex includes Hagemeister Park restaurant, The Children’s Museum of Green Bay and the Watermark office building.

Packers top revenue mark
The Green Bay Packers have set yet another new team record: highest annual revenue.

The team took in $375.7 million in revenue, up more than $50 million from a year ago, with much of the increase due to the new national broadcast contracts boosting the revenue of all the teams in the league, and to the new Packers Pro Shop that opened last summer.

“The continued popularity of the NFL is apparent in these numbers,” says Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy, in a news story by Senior Writer Mike Spofford. “The success of the team on the field and the support from our fans has helped drive it.”

National revenue, which makes up about 60 percent of the Packers’ total revenue picture and includes the broadcast deals, increased $38.7 million from the last fiscal year, while local revenue went up $12.9 million.

More than half of the boost in local revenue was thanks to the new Pro Shop, now located in the new ground floor of the Lambeau Field Atrium.

Expenses jumped to $37.8 million, primarily due to three factors — depreciation of the latest round of stadium improvements, an assessment from the league as a result of debt refinancing and costs related to the development of the upcoming “Titletown” district. The Packers have continued to purchase and prepare land around Lambeau Field for future development.

The bottom line produced a $13.8 million increase in operating profit, from $25.6 million last year to $39.4 million this year. Net income was reported as $29.2 million after interest on debt and other development costs were factored in.

The new Pro Shop and other stadium improvements have helped financially as expected, Murphy said, and the $312 million invested in the stadium over the last several years has involved 3,000 jobs and $130 million in wages.

Roughly 96 percent of the money has been spent in Wisconsin and roughly half in Brown County.