Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm
Milwaukee-based Vetter Denk Architects Inc. is completing one development and is planning three others in a four-block stretch of riverfront property in downtown Green Bay. The projects will dramatically alter the downtown Green Bay skyline and could boost the city’s image.
"This will be the new Monday Night Football shot (of the city)," said John Vetter, principal of Vetter Denk. "It will show where the city of Green Bay is going and how progressive it can be." "This is going to set the tone for what the new Green Bay is all about," said P. Robert Strong, the city’s planning director.
Vetter Denk’s Green Bay projects include:
• The company’s first Titletown venture is called Riverfront Lofts, a 26-unit condominium building. The company has already sold 25 of the 26 units. The $10 million, five-story building has a variety of condos, one to three-story units with between 860 and 3,500 square feet of space, which are priced between $165,000 to $800,000. Its construction will be complete by the end of May.
• The company plans to build a $35 million, 17-story condominium building, called Astor Place, just south of Main Street on the current site of Green Bay’s Admiral Flatley Park. The building will be the tallest in the state outside of Milwaukee, Vetter said. It will have 95 condominiums and 19,000 square feet of retail space. The condominiums will be priced between $200,000 and $1.4 million. So far, 45 of the 95 units have been reserved. Vetter Denk plans to begin construction on that project in the fall. It will take about 18 months to build.
• The company plans to build River Center between Riverfront Lofts and Astor Place. The site is a vacant former Younkers store, most of which will be demolished. River Center will be a $35 million to $50 million mixed-use development with 60,000 to 80,000 square feet of office space, a 100-room hotel, 25,000 to 30,000 square feet of retail space and about 60 loft apartments. The project will also include a new 15,000-square-foot Green Bay children’s museum. It will consist of several buildings between six and 14 stories tall.
• The company also plans to develop a site at the corner of Walnut Street and Washington Street, which is currently used as a surface parking lot. The company’s preliminary plans, called River Tower, are for a $20 million to $40 million mixed-use high-rise building with residential condos, office space and retail space. The height has not been determined. The company has an option to develop the site, which city officials had identified as the best site for the downtown’s tallest building before Vetter Denk proposed its Astor Place plans. "We felt that was the premier site in downtown Green Bay," Strong said. "We still expect it to be a significant building."
Vetter Denk began working on development projects in downtown Green Bay about 2-1/2 years ago. The company received a call from a Green Bay resident who was familiar with the company’s work, asking the firm to do projects to improve the city’s downtown. The man said that Green Bay "could really use them," Vetter said.
The Green Bay man came to Milwaukee and met with Vetter Denk executives, and later they went on a tour of Green Bay.
"The problem with Green Bay, the way we saw it, was there was no heart to the downtown," Vetter said. "We saw that as a problem, but we also saw it as an opportunity."
The company targeted the area between Main Street and Walnut Street along the east shore of the Fox River as the key area of Green Bay that was poised to become the new heart of the downtown. The area is across the river from the Neville Public Museum and is next to the now vacant downtown mall.
That portion of the riverfront had been neglected, Vetter said.
"It was a classic, Midwest post-industrial city that had turned its back on its most valuable resource, the Fox River," he said.
The stretch of riverfront was barren, except for parking lots and a warehouse.
Today, it is the site of a massive transformation. Next door to the almost-completed Riverfront Lofts building, Nicolet Bank built a new four-story, 83,000-square-foot corporate headquarters, which was completed last fall. The Nicolet Bank site is the only property in the four-block area between Main and Walnut streets that is not controlled by Vetter Denk.
In addition, the city plans to build a $12 million boardwalk along the east side of the Fox River between Main and Walnut streets. The boardwalk will be paid for by a combination of tax incremental financing (TIF), state and federal grants and private donations. The boardwalk will have an upper level near the buildings and a lower level along the water, where boats will be docked. The boardwalk will be about 50 feet wide with some larger areas where crowds can gather to watch performances, Strong said.
"We’re creating this environment of interesting spaces where things can happen," he said.
Vetter Denk worked with Boston-based Stoss Landscape Urbanism to design the boardwalk concept. The two firms also worked together to design the planned Erie Street Plaza in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.
Vetter Denk gave the boardwalk conceptual plans to the city, at no cost, in exchange for exclusive development rights for the properties along the east side of the river between Main and Walnut streets, except for the Nicolet Bank property.
The boardwalk will be part of a 15-mile long trail.
"This is going to be a destination on that trail," Strong said.
Eventually, the city will also build a walkway on the other side of Fox River, opposite the boardwalk. That walkway will provide a softer, more natural setting to complement the Neville Museum and Veterans Park.
Other developments are occurring downtown, in part because of the momentum created by the Vetter Denk projects, Strong said.
A vacant former Boston Store building, located next to the former Younkers building, was acquired by Baylake Bank. The bank is occupying the first floor of the building and leased the 80,000-square-foot second floor to APAC Customer Services, which will move a call center from Allouez (a Green Bay suburb) to the building. The APAC move will bring about 1,000 jobs into downtown Green Bay.
More businesses are thinking about moving downtown, Strong said.
"I’ve had property owners in the downtown that have actually been receiving calls," Strong said. "A lot of this is all coming from the excitement of the initial plan (by Vetter Denk)."
Even so, Vetter Denk’s plans were not embraced by everyone in Green Bay right away. The company, which is receiving millions of dollars in TIF financing for its Green Bay projects, had to work to convince the community that there was a demand for urban living in the city’s downtown.
"It’s a very provincial town that does not easily welcome outsiders," Vetter said. "It took a lot of work to gain respect and trust in the city."
Before Vetter Denk arrived, there were no residences in Green Bay’s central business district that could be purchased. Only rental apartments were available downtown. However, today, in addition to Vetter Denk’s projects, a 130-unit downtown apartment building is being converted to condos.
"There are people out there that would love to live in an urban environment if you offer the right product at the right location," Strong said.
Vetter Denk Architects Inc.
Location: 614 N. Broadway, Milwaukee
Owners: John Vetter and Kelly Denk
Web site: www.vetterdenk.com