By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – From a humble beginning to a well-known name, a lot has changed for On Broadway Inc. since it began 24 years ago, but one thing has always remained the same – its dedication to downtown Green Bay.
“What was once one of Green Bay’s most forgotten commercial corridors, filled with seedy establishments, is now a thriving and vibrant urban center filled with many different types of businesses,” said Executive Director Brian Johnson. “If a city has a thriving downtown, that’s the story that gets retold to help support a city’s reputation.”
On Broadway was founded in 1995 as a Wisconsin Main Street program.
Like many new organizations, in the beginning On Broadway relied on support and in-kind investments from the business community.
“Over time, we’ve grown in scope and diversified our support,” Johnson said. “We follow the National Main Street four-point approach with emphasis on design, promotion, organization and economic vitality. We have volunteer teams mobilized around each of these areas to help elevate the overall quality of this district.”
A lot has changed over the last 24 years, and Johnson said things continue to change.
“It’s important for the health of a city to have a strong urban core,” Johnson said. “Shifting demographics are creating demand for an urban center as millennials seek a simpler lifestyle that’s pedestrian friendly and baby boomers look to downsize with close proximity to amenities.”
Human nature seeks socialization and a healthy and active downtown helps fill that bucket for many people.
“The district has grown into Green Bay’s authentic urban center filled with historic buildings, eclectic shops and memorable events,” Johnson said.
Events throughout the year can be credited to On Broadway – such as Taste on Broadway and the Farmers Market on Broadway.
Last year, On Broadway took ownership of Fire Over the Fox – Green Bay’s annual Fourth of July celebration.
Other events include Winterfest, Broadway Beer Hop, Fall Fest, Lighting Ceremony on Broadway and Winter Wine & Beer Walks.
In total, Johnson said, On Broadway hosts nearly 60 events throughout the year – drawing nearly 400,000 additional visitors to the district.
On Broadway has earned awards the last two years from the Wisconsin Main Street organization.
The igNight Market and the Farmers’ Market on Broadway events were recognized as Wisconsin’s Best Special Event.
In addition to the longstanding events, some newer additions include The Wildflower Wine Walk, pop-up events at the new Pocket Park on Broadway, outdoor film screenings and the Levitt AMP Green Bay Music Series.
As On Broadway adds to its event repertoire, Johnson said staff is creating ones that are geared specifically toward its creative vision.
“We want to ensure that every person who visits our district leaves with a meaningful and memorable experience,” Johnson said. “Whether it’s for one of the special events we host or an interaction with one of the many unique shops located within our district, it’s important that those memories are positive and prompt visitors to retell their story from a favorable perspective that helps elevate the district brand.”
But, On Broadway is more than just special events.
The Broadway District is approximately 150 businesses strong – which includes a mixture of retail, entertainment, restaurants, office and manufacturing.
“Approximately 20 percent of the businesses are retail, which drives our external brand identity, but it’s the overall diversified mix that helps secure a strong retail, dining and entertainment environment,” Johnson said.
The next few years will be redefining for the Broadway District, as new development is on the horizon.
“The city has recently invested in the Shipyard, which will include an urban beach, splash pad, dog park, grass area and container park,” Johnson said. “Breakthrough (Fuel) plans to build a new corporate headquarters on the north slip of the Shipyard.”
The Rail Yard also continues to emerge as one of the city’s more unique warehouse redevelopments filled with commercial and residential tenants in the former Larsen Green Canning building.
“Later this year we’ll be breaking ground on a 109-unit working class housing residential development and there’s strong demand from other developers to expand the availability of residential living in the district,” Johnson said.
Stay tuned, Johnson said, the district has a few surprises as the 25th anniversary approaches.