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State budget includes $2 million to build new visitor center

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

BROWN COUNTY – Of more than $2.5 billion being recommended by Gov. Tony Evers in the state’s 2019-21 capital budget, $2 million is included for the Greater Green Bay Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to build a new visitor center in Ashwaubenon.

If that budget provision ultimately receives final approval as part of this year’s biennial budget process, the CVB would have to come up with $5 million to match the $2 million.

The proposed state funding will first be considered by the State Building Commission, before being sent to the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee and then both houses of the legislature before being forwarded to the governor for his signature.

CVB President/CEO Brad Toll said he is very pleased to have Evers include the visitor center funding among the budgeted capital projects.

“Obviously it will get us a lot closer to the end goal,” Toll said.

Though that money wouldn’t be available until after the budget is passed, Toll said the prospects look good for approval with both Republicans and Democrats he’s worked with supporting a new visitor center and that the project could begin prior to state budget approval, which is not expected to take place until this summer and possibly might extend into the fall.

Construction is planned to start this spring with the visitor center scheduled to open in the summer of 2020.

State Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) said he believes $2 million toward constructing the visitor center would be an appropriate use of state money for a capital project.

He said he prefers the state funding $2 million, instead of the entire project cost being supported by borrowing with the state’s general fund.

Cowles also noted his support for the visitor center funding doesn’t mean he favors the entire capital budget, which he said he will be looking through prior to the Senate voting on it.

State Rep. David Steffen (R-Howard) said he supports the concept of the state funding the visitor center, but wants to look at the dollar amounts included in the capital budget to see if they make sense.

The CVB announced plans last year to construct a $6.5 million visitor center, to be called the Experience Greater Green Bay Visitor Center, located near Interstate 41 and Lombardi Avenue off of Argonne Street, behind the new US Bank building on property owned by the Green Bay Packers’ real estate entity.

Once constructed, the two-story, 12,500 square-foot visitor center would be managed and programmed by the CVB, which will move its offices there after having operating out of Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena since the organization was founded in 1969.

The plans for the visitor center include featuring community spaces and an atrium with interactive displays that highlight attractions in the Green Bay area, the history and traditions of the community and its industries, along with the center having an outdoor plaza and garden.

Fundraising for the Experience Greater Green Bay Visitor Center is being facilitated by Experience Greater Green Bay, a 501(c) (3) partner of the Greater Green Bay CVB, to which contributions for the project will be tax deductible.

Toll said Experience Greater Green Bay has received pledge commitments of around $3.7 million, including the largest contribution of $1.5 million from the Oneida Nation.

Last month, the Brown County Board voted 20-5 in favor of providing the CVB a $500,000 interest-free loan for building the visitor center. The board’s resolution calls for the loan to be paid back in 10 years with no payments required in the first five years and $100,000 payments due in each year of the final five years.

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