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Shipyard development shifts course of riverfront from work to play


GREEN BAY– Next time you cross the Mason Street Bridge, take note of the landscape either side of the bridge on the west bank of the Fox River – because it’s about to change.

The infamous black coal piles on the south side of the bridge are gradually disappearing, and the vacated “brownfield” surrounding the wharf on the north side is about to be transformed into the Shipyard, a public gathering space intended to be a magnet for future development.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich, noting the fits and starts the site has gone through since the city purchased the property in the early ‘90s.

Genrich said the riverfront in general, and the downtown riverfront in particular, has always been critical to Green Bay from a commerce standpoint.

From Native American settlements to fur trading to logging and then on through the decades to papermaking to rail and international shipping, the Green Bay’s Fox River has historically been a working riverfront.

Photo Courtesy of the Neville Public Museum of Brown County

“But now, this is a change where people will start to see this as a destination for residents and visitors,” he said. “It’s created with recreation in mind.”

Phase I work is scheduled to begin this summer and include construction of a riverfront promenade and multi-use path, floating docks in the current wharf, a fishing pier, accessible kayak launch and habitat enhancement.

Phase II, scheduled for 2023, will include a great lawn for concerts, festivals and events; a dog park and an urban beach with splashpad and playground.

The third and final phase, which includes a unique commercial plaza with food, beverage and retail, will be phased in as surrounding private investment warrants.

Brian Johnson, Director of On Broadway, Inc., said the current brownfield site was undeveloped, and also felt unsafe.

He hopes the public investment in Shipyard Phase I will lead to a spillover effect of future private investment.

“We think this will be a catalyst,” Johnson said. “And that almost always starts with a public asset.”
In fact, the first private investment in the Shipyard District – a four-story, $21 million mixed-use development on the north side of the wharf – was approved in May by the Green Bay City Council and was contingent on development of the public gathering space.

The city committed to an initial $8.8 million investment in site preparation, partly made possible by grants from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the Environmental Protection Agencey and the Fox River Trustee Council.

However, not all improvements will be done in advance of expected development, rather the city is taking a phased approach to public improvements as private investment warrants.

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