De Pere is healthy and looking to the future
By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – De Pere is alive and thriving – and striving to become a cultural hub in the area.
That’s the message from De Pere leaders speaking at the State of De Pere luncheon held Tuesday, Nov. 13.
About 150 people from the business and college communities attended the event, held in the Hendrickson Ballroom at Bemis International Center at St. Norbert College.
The De Pere Chamber of Commerce hosted the event, along with Definitely De Pere and the city of De Pere.
“We have the opportunity to become a cultural center for the region,” said Tina Quigley, executive director of Definitely De Pere, which is De Pere’s Main Street organization.
Other speakers included St. Norbert College President Brian Bruess, De Pere Mayor Mike Walsh, Definitely De Pere president-elect Brenda Busch and Chamber board co-chair Steve Handrick.
Quigley credited the National Trust for Historic Preservation for establishing the Main Street organizations, which have helped communities across the country with redevelopment efforts.
“As a Main Street program, Definitely De Pere helps drive small business success, improve quality of life, assist in the revitalization of the downtown and bring new residents, businesses and revenue to the city,” Quigley said.
She noted the downtown has undergone $33 million in private investments over the past two years, including:
• $22.7 million in property improvements,
• $3.8 million in property sales, and,
• $6.5 million in new development.
“The average private investment of benchmark cities in Wisconsin was just $9.1 million,” Quigley said.
Quigley also noted that downtown De Pere has welcomed 18 new businesses in 2018 and has seen three closures, for a net of 15 net new businesses.
Comparable sized cities’ downtowns netted 1.2 new businesses per year, she said.
Last year, Downtown De Pere was allocated $100,000 from excess stadium tax funds to use toward art in public places and $150,000 to use toward streetscape projects.
“So far, five murals that convey a piece of De Pere’s history and reflect the character of the city have been painted on buildings throughout the downtown,” Quigley said. “And a major sculpture piece is being proposed for installation next spring that will add interest and vibrancy to the district.”
Walsh called being mayor for the past 23 years an honor and highlighted some projects on the horizon, including:
• The Pine Trail subdivision between the Fox River Trail and Susie C. Altmayer Elementary School that’s underway;
• Next year’s redevelopment of the historic Irwin school into eight condominiums and 12 townhomes;
• A streetscape plaza for James Street in front of the Union Hotel next year as well as public art and pedestrian improvements in Nicolet Square Alley; and
• A possible kayak launch, performance venue and beer garden at Voyageur Park.
As one of the many recreation-related highlights of 2018, he cited the successful city pool referendum that culminated last week after three years of concerns that one side of town or the other wouldn’t have a pool.
Voters approved transforming the pools at Legion and VFW parks into aquatics facilities.
Walsh also mentioned the recently finished playground at Southwest Park and last spring’s opening of a new inclusive playground at Voyageur Park.
But the proposed southern bridge project faces competition from the proposal to widen Interstate 41.
“We’re continuing to work with the Greater Green Bay Chamber and Brown County on the planning and lobbying efforts to get it built,” Walsh said, adding that if all goes well, work on the bridge could begin in 2026.
“In order to continue the momentum of this critical infrastructure project, we need it added to the state biennial budget that will be adopted in 2019,” he said, adding that those in favor of the project should reach out to their state and federal elected officials.
Handrick said the inaugural UnQorked event at the Marq last spring was so successful it will return next spring.
A new program, De Pere to Peer, connects businesses located in industrial parks with each other via social engagement and tours.
One of the findings from the Business Walk event this fall was that industrial-park businesses didn’t feel connected with the business community.
In addition to the relationship between St. Norbert and the city, Bruess touted the college’s 13 to 1 student to faculty ratio, its 28,000 hours annually of volunteer work, its more than 40 areas of study, and its 90 student organizations.
“Wisconsin tends to be an exporter of college graduates, but here at St. Norbert, we’re doing very well,” Bruess said.
Some 81 percent of its graduates stay in Wisconsin, and 86 percent stay within the Midwest, he said.