By Lee Reinsch
GREEN BAY – Broadway is more than just events, Brian Johnson, director of On Broadway, Inc., told a packed house at the annual State of the Broadway District Feb. 26 at Gather on Broadway.
Then he added, “So naturally, when I took the job with OBI, I said, ‘Let’s do more events.’”
Three years ago, On Broadway hosted 26 events. Last year it did 31. This year, it’s on track to put on 52 events.
Half of OBI’s revenue goes toward sponsoring things to do and creating reasons to visit and recreate on Broadway.
It’s even more than the four major new construction projects happening or about to happen there (the Railyard townhome/condominium development, the Shipyard development, Breakthrough Fuel’s new headquarters at the Shipyard development and the Broadway Lofts, at the former Larsen Canning Co. building, to feature affordable housing).
Johnson said Broadway is also an investment in community.
He said it’s promotions and it’s people: the people who work there, the people who own businesses and buildings there, the volunteers that make things happen.
Last year, volunteers put in some 2,100 volunteer hours, representing a $51,000 value to the district, according to Johnson.
Last year, OBI had a record-setting year for revenue.
In-kind sponsorships tripled over the previous few years.
Granted, revenue and net income are quite different, but Johnson said it was still a very good year.
Three years ago, he said things weren’t all that rosy on Broadway.
The organization had lost a lot of money and its bank account was low, Johnson said.
Through cutbacks and sacrifices and increased support from sponsors, he said Broadway has grown again.
On Broadway, Inc., even moved its office to Broadway, from a block west of it.
Start and finish lines for the Cellcom Marathon in May will move to Leicht Memorial Park, 128 Dousman, between Broadway and the Fox River (behind Titletown Brewing).
An emphasis on public art has seen the installation of creative benches and garbage cans, and several alleyway/back parking lots saw brightening up both metaphorically and literally, with better lighting and reconfiguring.
“One of the reasons people were afraid to go out at night on Broadway was that the parking lots were dark and scary,” he said.
Despite claims about the death of retail, it hasn’t happened.
Ninety percent of shopping is still done in a storefront, said Johnson.
“Oftentimes the winners are small boutiques and shops,” he said.
The Better Block Project, a national initiative, spurred the launch of a colorful new mural to be done on the north side of the DuBois Formalwear & Tuxedo building, 127 S. Broadway.
Designed by Green Bay artist Beau Thomas, it’s described as a postcard to Green Bay that will be the single largest piece of public art in the city.
One of the most common metrics with which to measure a downtown’s success is occupancy rates, Johnson said.
“It’s not as easy to find space as it was 15 years ago,” he said.
An early adopter of the Main Street USA downtown revitalization principles and one of 30 Main Street USA districts in the state, Broadway followed its four-point recipe.
“To create a successful downtown, you need economic vitality, great design, a solid organization/foundation and good promotion,” Johnson said.
Part of having a strong foundation lies in having a solid volunteer base, he said, crediting those hardworking volunteers.
“People have choices in what to do with their time, and that’s why we’re especially grateful to all of the people who volunteered,” Johnson said.
Kevin Vonck, director of economic development for the city of Green Bay, talked about the Shipyard Development on the very south end of Broadway near the Mason Street overpass.
The low point for the project came last year when a baseball team decided to move to Ashwaubenon and pulled out of the Shipyard.
Surveys subsequently showed the community has a relatively low interest in having an athletic field downtown, and a greater preference for concerts and festivals, Vonck said.
The development will have a container park area, where new businesses could use shipping containers as temporary structures with which to launch their businesses.
He described the shoreline the development will have as being “a more natural or a hybrid area that juxtaposes with a lot of urban structures” and could be good for winter sports.
Conceptual plans will be unveiled in a few weeks.