Visitors to Lambeau Field in Ashwaubenon – close to, but not exactly in Green Bay, Wisconsin – have more to do these days when catching a Green Bay Packers game. That’s largely because of the Titletown District redevelopment project.
And much of the credit should go not only to city officials who planned the improvements and to the developers who made it a reality, but to the commercial lenders with whom they worked.
Commercial lenders are the ones, after all, who provide the money that can turn dream projects into reality. And in downtown Green Bay and its surrounding areas? Those commercial loans have been critical.
There was a time when there was little reason to visit downtown Green Bay. It wasn’t a bad place. There simply wasn’t much to do.
That has changed, thanks to the new Titletown District redevelopment project and the city of Green Bay’s efforts to simultaneously boost activity in its downtown hub.
The highlights of the 45-acre Titletown redevelopment project include a new Lodge Kohler hotel, the Hinterland Brewery and the Bellin Health Sports Medicine and Orthopedics clinic. Then there’s the new park and plaza area that includes playgrounds designed for three different age groups, a course that visitors can run to chart their 40-yard dash time, a full-sized football field and an ice-skating pond and trail.
At the same time, downtown Green Bay is benefiting from its own redevelopment push, one that got its start largely in 2012 when the city demolished the closed Port Plaza Mall that was eventually replaced by the 250,000-square-foot headquarters for dairy giant Schreiber Foods. At the time, city officials expressed hope that the $85 million development would bring other retailers, multifamily developments and entertainment options to downtown Green Bay.
That hope wasn’t misplaced.
Today, downtown Green Bay is filled with those new retailers, restaurants, breweries and entertainment options that city officials had hoped for.
The city’s leaders deserve plenty of credit for the redevelopment efforts. But so, of course, do developers and the commercial lenders who helped finance the projects.
Consider Walker & Dunlop. This company has played a vital role in financing projects in the heart of Green Bay. As an example, Walker & Dunlop recently structured a $15.5 million loan for Manseau Flats, a 78-unit Class-A multifamily development along the western bank of the Fox River in neighboring Green Bay community Ashwaubenon.
Bedford Development is developing this project, which will add much-needed rental housing to the Green Bay area.
Senior vice president Brandon Strong and managing director Chris Rumul led the Walker & Dunlop team in arranging the new construction loan through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 221(d)(4) program. The 40-year, fixed-rate loan includes a two-year construction term and provides both construction and permanent financing.
Ryan Bedford, executive vice president of developments at Bedford Development, said that Walker & Dunlop played a key role in the development.
“No HUD 221(d)(4) loan is a walk in the park, but partnering with Walker & Dunlop’s team of professionals made the process much easier,” he said. “We are very pleased to have partnered with Walker & Dunlop to close our loan and begin construction.”
That’s just one example of how the financing provided by Walker & Dunlop has provided a boost to Green Bay.
“The biggest catalyst for the changes in downtown Green Bay came from Schreiber Foods,” said Brandon Strong, senior vice president with Walker & Dunlop. “That kicked off a lot of additional development. Schreiber brought jobs. They employ about 7,000 people. In my opinion, that was the best possible replacement for the old mall. You replaced a vacant problem with a large company.”
The workers at Schreiber needed places to eat lunch. So that spurred the opening of new restaurants. Others wanted a bit of entertainment after work. That spurred more development. Some wanted to live closer to work. That brings demand for new multifamily housing.
Schreiber Foods’ opening basically changed the entire feel of downtown Green Bay.
“One of the challenges to overcome in downtown Green Bay was the perception the public had of that area,” Strong said. “People thought there was no reason to go downtown. But then when you add new activity, people get curious. They start to venture downtown. More things start to happen. Which is what is happening now in downtown.”
Green Bay still has needs, of course. Chief among them? Multifamily housing. Even with the addition of new developments, the demand for apartment units is still high in downtown Green Bay.
Walker & Dunlop did its own recent study showing that Green Bay needs new housing. So expect developers to come up with more plans for apartment buildings, and for companies like Walker & Dunlop to provide the financing so vital to making these planned developments a reality.
Strong said that Green Bay offers plenty of advantages for developers, whether these developers want to bring apartments, restaurants, shops or entertainment options to the area.
“Green Bay has an advantage in that it is such a steady market,” Strong said. “Its highs aren’t as high as in the coastal markets. But neither are the lows. It’s about slow, steady growth here. There is some benefit in that. We haven’t seen overbuilding here. Developers are thoughtful about the amount of development here.”
The future looks promising for the area, too. The Green Bay Packers and Microsoft Corp. in October of last year announced the launch of TitletownTech, a project designed to incubate and support local technology firms.
TitletownTech will operate from a work space in the Titletown development next to Lambeau Field. It will include the TitletownTech Accelerator, which will work with startups to either incubate them or accelerate their gowth. The employees at these companies will spend 18 weeks working at TitletownTech, benefitting from the advice and mentoring of its advisors.
There’s also the TitletownTech Venture Capital Fund, which will invest in and provide capital to help launch new companies that will participate in the accelerator program.
“The latest digital tools, technology expertise and capital are critical to starting and running a successful business in the 21st century,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, in a statement. “By combining the Green Bay Packers’ deep engagement in this community and our expertise in helping businesses digitally transform, we believe TitletownTech will be a valuable resource for Wisconsin and a model for fostering economic development in other parts of the country.”
Microsoft and the Packers have each pledged to commit $5 million to TitletownTech during the next five years. They will donate all profits and capital returns from the venture capital fund to philanthropic projects and economic development.
Strong says that efforts like this are bringing plenty of optimism to downtown Green Bay. Of course, Walker & Dunlop’s financing efforts have helped in stoking this optimism. Strong said that Walker & Dunlop today has about $200 million in outstanding debt in Green Bay itself and about another $150 million in its surrounding communities.
“Green Bay has a small-town feel, but it is in the national spotlight because it has an NFL team,” Strong said. “That brings in the national media. It brings in a lot of revenue. There is more awareness of the city. Now, we have more to showcase on game day. We are no longer just an NFL town. There are things do on days other than Sundays or Mondays.”