Venturing forward

Residential, commercial projects reshaping Appleton’s downtown

Posted on Dec 2, 2019 :: Economic Development
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

While there’s no firm start date for building what’s considered to be downtown Appleton’s largest-ever development — U.S. Venture’s new eight-story corporate headquarters — there’s a lot of anticipation about the company’s 700-plus employees moving downtown and the corresponding ripple effects.

An analysis completed by JobsEQ estimated U.S. Venture’s move from Kimberly to downtown Appleton will generate $770 million in annual economic activity in the city as the company’s workers and visitors patronize downtown restaurants, retailers and service providers.

“Less than one-third of team members who work in our current building live in Appleton, and we know much of our workforce doesn’t frequent the downtown,” says U.S. Venture President John Schmidt. “Nearly 100 percent of U.S. Venture’s revenues come from outside of Appleton, and we will bring operations and people into Appleton to spend real money. What excites us most is making a positive impact on the downtown and giving our team members the chance to experience the arts, music and dining scene, as well as new community engagement opportunities.”

The 200,000-square-foot building will have an estimated assessed value of $54.5 million, and U.S. Venture says it will pay the majority of the cost for the city-owned parking ramp that will serve as the building’s base through its increased property taxes and parking fees.

While the Appleton Common Council has yet to vote in favor of building the parking ramp, Schmidt says U.S. Venture remains focused on moving the project forward and building a positive work environment for its employees.

“We love this community and believe the most impactful step we can take to improve it is by investing in the future of Appleton,” he says.

While U.S. Venture and the city continue to work out the details, Karen Harkness, director of community and economic development for the City of Appleton, says there are “multiple mixed-use projects that include residential units with commercial or retail space in the mix that are moving forward, and we’re definitely excited about.”

Harkness says the projects (see Building boom, left) will go a long way to meet the goal set out in the city’s 2010-2030 comprehensive plan to add 465 residential units in the city’s central business district by 2021.

“There are several reasons for the different projects, and the plan is part of it since it showed the need for more housing downtown,” she says. “People want to live downtown in the central business district. People want to be where the events are, retail is located — it’s a trend seen across the country.”

Farther west on College Avenue, The Core purchased the former Thompson Center and is renovating it to serve its needs. The Core is an offshoot of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church near Freedom that targets millennials and Gen Z. The building will provide the ministry with additional worship and classroom space and room for the recording and editing of Pastor Mike Novotny’s sermons, which are shown through a partnership with Time of Grace to an estimated 450,000 people each weekend.

Harkness says sometimes the projects with the biggest impacts are those people might not ordinarily associate with economic development. This includes converting Appleton Street to a two-way street and straightening out Oneida Street as it comes off the Oneida Skyline Bridge.

“Those road projects make it easier to access the downtown, and in the case of the Oneida Street project, we actually gained additional space to the Bluff 1 site,” which sits adjacent to the property set aside for U.S. Venture, she says.

Once the details for the U.S. Venture project are finalized, Harkness says other planned projects on the bluff will be able to move forward. Among those are a new home for Mosaic Family Health, a mixed-use development and a parking garage to be used by the YMCA and other new projects. As for the Bluff 1 site, there is some interest, but developers are waiting for the U.S. Venture project to move ahead.

A mixed-use building that would also house a new Appleton Public Library is still on the drawing board for the Soldier’s Square area, but that project needs common council approval. The new YMCA ramp would also need to be finished since the plan calls for the demolition of the current ramp to make room for the new building, which, in addition to serving as home to the library, would include 99 apartments.

“As the mayor says, there’s a lot of dominos that need to fall for all of the projects to come into place,” Harkness says.

Along the river

The number of new developments along the Fox River near downtown has multiplied during the past 10 years. The new $25 million The Willows building in the RiverHeath development is among the largest. The Willows will feature 110 apartment units and 23,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.

On the north side of the river, the Alexander Co. is planning to construct a $5.1 million, 28-unit community-based residential facility next door to its Eagle Point Senior Living apartments on the former Foremost Dairy plant site.

Along the waterfront, the Fox River Navigational System Authority plans to break ground next spring on a three-story building on Lawe Street by Lock No. 3 that would include a visitor center on the first floor with the upper two floors set aside for commercial use.

Jeremy Cords, CEO of the Fox River Navigational System Authority, says the interactive center will be designed to preserve the historic importance of the lock system and the cultural heritage of the region, enhance future tourism and contribute to the area’s economic development. The lock system is the only fully restored, hand-operated lock system in the nation with all 17 locks on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Creating a center dedicated to the history and cultural significance of the lock system has been a goal of ours for years,” Cords says. “The locks are not solely for boaters, as they have been the transportation engine that helped shape the economy and development of Northeast Wisconsin.”

New leader for Appleton

After 24 years, Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna will leave his post in April. Hanna has been a fervent supporter of downtown development, helping to spearhead multiple projects including the Fox Cities Exhibition Center, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, the proposed new library and the U.S. Venture global headquarters.

Building boom

There are several downtown developments that will add to the city’s housing stock:

Gabriel Lofts, which includes the restored and remodeled Gabriel Furniture store plus some additional new construction, will include 21 market-rate residential units and nearly 7,000 square feet of commercial space along College Avenue.

Avant Apartments, off of North Durkee Street, will include 33 market-rate residential units.

800 West on the 800 block of West College Avenue will include first floor commercial space and 20 market-rate apartments.

The Crescent Lofts will include 69 apartments in the Post-Crescent building on West Washington Street, which will undergo extensive renovations.

• The Zuelke Building is slated to undergo a historic renovation project that will create 10 residential units and 39,300 square feet of office and retail space.