By Ben Rodgers
ASHWAUBENON – A local architect with more than five decades of experience has a different plan for the proposed expo center Brown County wants to build.
However, the Brown County Board of Supervisors and other municipalities involved are unlikely to agree with him.
Ben Schenkelberg doesn’t want to see the proposed expo center go up on the current site of the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena, but instead at the Brown County Fairgrounds on Fort Howard Avenue, near Ashland Avenue.
“The existing arena and Shopko Hall property is too small for a building of that size, and the neighborhood total density is too great,” Schenkelberg said. “The neighborhood is a conglomeration of metal buildings and industrial buildings.”
The fairgrounds, which are owned by the county and lie between Ashwaubenon and De Pere, have more than 36 acres, compared to just the eight acres at the current arena site at the corner of Armed Forces Drive and Oneida Street.
According to Schenkelberg, 36 acres are more than enough to accommodate the fair each summer as well as host a state-of-the-art expo center, while maintaining the existing boat ramp, campgrounds and park area.
“It is located close to the sewage treatment plant. The site would avoid a storm water reservoir because it could be run into the river, it has all utilities on site, and has a view of the city of De Pere,” he said.
Schenkelberg’s proposed plan, which he legally submitted to the county, would allow for more space and a revenue generator for the land in the Stadium District.
“It’s time to spread the wealth so all communities in Brown County have an opportunity and say in the building and construction. This is not solely an Ashwaubenon or Green Bay decision,” he said.
With the move the county could tear down the current arena and convert it into parking, which Schenkelberg estimates could generate close to $800,000 a year in revenue for the county.
By charging $40 a space for the 1,000 parking spaces the lot could fit for the 10 Green Bay Packers home games, and $5 a space for events at the Resch Center, Brown County could create a new revenue stream.
“The reason it’s justified is Austin Straubel Airport charges for parking, the city of Green Bay charges for parking in their ramps and meters. It’s about time that the county benefits to help offset the cost of operation after the new expo center is built,” he said.
Plus Schenkelberg said this revenue could help fund the expo center operations.
“When you construct the largest and most expensive county-owned building called an exposition center, it’s expensive to operate,” he said. “It has to function 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. The parking revenue will be more than enough to cover the expenses to operate the Resch Center and the expo center because when the building construction cost is completed the residents will be faced with an annual utility bill forever.”
Schenkelberg said the county could create enough parking room and a facility with enough amenities to attract business to the current fairground site.
“They will come,” he said. “Also there is sufficient land to have outlots for vendors to construct buildings similar to Titletown onsite for additional income.”
His plan calls for an outlot, that would be sold to an interested business like a restaurant or a bar, just like the establishments that dot the landscape of the Stadium District.
Schenkelberg’s plan would also create a new 4H building where each community in the county would have the opportunity to design a space to use for upcoming fairs.
“The Brown County Fairgrounds facilities for agriculture is a disgrace and we have many outlining school districts that are farm oriented and this is an opportunity to put pride back into the Brown County Fair because it is a county fair,” he said.
Schenkelberg said the design of the proposed building on the fairgrounds isn’t important, but if positioned right it would create a view over the Fox River looking into De Pere.
Part of the building could also be used for a restaurant that takes advantage of the view with a bandshell for concerts as well, he said.
“It will enhance activities on the river such as fishing derbies, water shows, in-water boat shows, and provide a balance of activities within the metropolitan area of Brown County,” Schenkelberg said.
Currently the Brown County Board of Supervisors is set in its decision to construct the expo center at the current site of the arena.
“That corner is the lynchpin to the Lombardi corridor between the Titletown District and the Legends District, and we are not putting an expo center down on Ashland Avenue. I can assure you of that,” said Patrick Moynihan, District 22 supervisor and county board chair. “If I got air in these lungs it will not happen, and you can quote me.”
Moynihan said the county had a study completed with the location near Lambeau Field in mind, and no other locations.
“I appreciate Mr. Schenkelberg’s thinking of a different location outside of the box. It’s all well and good, but when it comes to the actual plans, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m one supervisor, it’s for that corner of Ashwaubenon for all of Brown County,” Moynihan said.
In July 2017, eight parties entered into an agreement that the room tax will help pay for the expo center, with the agreement the expo center would be constructed at the site of the current arena.
Room tax is funding the majority of the cost for new expo center, roughly $66 million. The other $27 million is coming from a combination of sales tax, leftover stadium tax dollars, and naming rights.
Those parties that agreed to this funding and the location are Green Bay, Ashwaubenon, De Pere, Allouez, Howard, Suamico, Bellevue and Brown County.
“I believe the way the documents are written, we would actually have to go back to all the communities and say ‘Hey we would like you to amend these agreements to replace the arena,’” said Chad Weininger, director of administration for Brown County.
Every party would have to agree to the change. One “no” from any of the parties who signed the agreement would mean the site stays in the Stadium District, Weininger said.
Schenkelberg still welcomes any questions or comments. He can be reached at 920-662-2001.