GREEN BAY - The old mall has stood in the way of progress downtown for nearly a decade. Soon, it will be out of way and knocked down to make room for the new corporate headquarters for Schreiber Foods.
"A lot of people are looking at us as the company that's saving downtown but that's far from reality," said Andrew Tobisch, the director of communications for Schreiber. The company is planning to build a $50-million headquarters and global technology center where the mall currently sits.
"It's going to be a state of the art facility that's really going to enhance our ability to create value for our customers," Tobisch said.
Value for their customers and, the thinking goes, for their neighbors.
"We've been part of the downtown for over 100 years now," said Steve Liebert, the owner of Bosse's News and Tobacco. When the mall closed six years ago, Liebert says he knew what needed to happen.
"It's been sitting there as an eyesore," he said. "Who wants that type of a structure down here? Nobody's interested so you have to get rid of it. It was a loss, say it was a mistake. We start over."
That was easier said than done. City leaders struggled to for six years to figure out what to do with the property.
Harry Maier is the chairman of the city's Redevelopment Authority.
"Nobody was stepping forward and saying we want to develop this. We want to do this with it or do that with it. We were open to suggestions and we sent out requests for proposals all over the United States and the response was almost zero," Maier said.
Years passed and nothing changed. All the while the city, which was trying to keep its options open, was footing the bill for utilities at the mall. Total cost to taxpayers: $143,054.94 over four years.
FOX 11 On Special Assignment asked Jeff Mirkes from Downtown Green Bay, Inc. why it took so long to develop the mall.
"You can't point at any one thing but a combination of things: national and local economic components definitely measured into," Mirkes said. "Is the entrepreneurial community willing to invest and look at a redevelopment plan? But other things played into it as well. What does the area need?"
Mirkes says several ideas were thrown around, everything from a community playground to a new high school. In the end, it was Schreiber Foods that came forward with a plan. The company has not released any specific plans for the project, other than to say the company headquarters and global technology center will likely be housed in one building.
"I can't tell you a whole lot about what it's going to look like and that's what most people are wondering about but we're pretty deep into the design phase right now kind of gathering a lot of data and we've made a lot of progress," Tobisch said.
Mayor Jim Schmitt says the city was working with Schreiber for more than a year.
"What Schreiber has done is like winning multiple Super Bowls. It's really just put our downtown on the map," Schmitt said.
As part of the deal, the city will provide $14.5 million in assistance to the project.
FOX 11 On Special Assignment asked Schmitt why the city needs provide an incentive package to Schreiber.
"Look, when it comes to securing the right businesses we live in a competitive world," Schmitt said. "Schreiber, for God's sake, they have plants in India, China, they have more employees in Missouri than they do in Wisconsin, and every community wanted Schreiber. And when they (other communities) offered an incentive package to them, Schreiber was honest with us. Schreiber, as I've said before, they probably could've squeezed us for more but all they wanted us to do was be competitive and any business needs to be competitive and find out how you can finance something to secure the right customer."
Schmitt's most vocal critic, alderman Guy Zima, says the deal isn't perfect.
"I think we subsidized it a little more than we should," Zima said. But Zima, and every other member of the city council, voted for it.
"The Schreiber project is the first thing that we know for sure there's going to be some jobs and even though we're providing plenty of subsidy there is going to be a tax base and there definitely is going to be some real jobs there," Zima said.
Schreiber says it won't be bringing any new jobs to Green Bay, but the company's 550 employees currently in town will be brought under one roof. Right now, they are spread out at six different locations.
Jeff Mirkes says Schreiber's decision to stay and build downtown is already having an impact.
"At any given point in time during January or February we might have three or four or five inquiries in our pipeline looking for space, an office a restaurant, etc. Right now, and I'm elated to say this, we have 14 or 15 inquiries. I can say downtown has not had that in a dozen years. That's exciting. I can say now, the momentum is real," Mirkes said.
Schreiber says the building design will be made public in April or May and construction will start later this year.
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