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De Pere downtown development in the spotlight

Leaders share community highlights at annual State of De Pere

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June 3, 2024

DE PERE – The next few years, City of De Pere Mayor James Boyd, said will be transformative for the city of a little more than 25,000.

Boyd shared the statement with nearly 200 gathered in the Discover Auditorium inside the Mulva Cultural Center at the recently held 2024 State of De Pere event.

The Mulva, which opened in late 2023 on the east side of the river, Boyd said, is the city’s “crown jewel” and will soon be joined by even more development.

In addition to Boyd, Definitely De Pere Director Tina Quigley, St. Norbert College (SNC) president Laurie Joyner and De Pere Area Chamber interim president and CEO David Vander Bloomen took their turn at the podium to discuss the achievements of 2023 and 2024 thus far, as well as shared a few insights into what’s yet to come this year.

Development update

Boyd discussed details of the much-anticipated development project at the former Shopko building on the city’s east side.

A site plan for the project calls for 27,000 square feet of retail space, 27,000 square feet of office and commercial space, apartments, condos, a hotel and the city’s first-ever parking structure.

“All total, it’s an $80 million buildout,” Boyd said. “We are excited. It all won’t happen at once, but the first shovels will go into the ground later in 2024.”

Boyd said the city also now owns two large parcels on the downtown’s east side it looks to use to help redevelop Front Street.

The city, he said, is working with adjoining property owners on a plan, with more details coming soon.

On the city’s west side, SNC recently began construction on the Donald & Patricia Schneider Family Hall, which will serve as the new home for the Donald J. Schneider School of Business and Economics.

SNC President Laurie Joyner said the new business college will have a large physical presence in the community and expand its programming and continue to be the hub of business intelligence in the region.

The next few years, Mayor James Boyd said, will be transformative for the City of De Pere. Photo Courtesy of the City of De Pere

The 45,000-square-foot facility, she said, will include classrooms and workspaces, space for executive education and conference opportunities and a connected terrace for gatherings along the Fox River.

The building is expected to open in fall 2025.

“It will be a huge asset to the college and the college,” Boyd said.

New businesses are also setting up shop in De Pere.

Tina Quigley, executive director of Definitely De Pere, said several small businesses will open in the city’s downtown in 2024.

Though Quigley said she could not yet name all the businesses planning to open, she did highlight Orsetta Craft Kitchen + Bar (109 N. Broadway), Sofreh Eatery (353 Main Ave. Suite B), Blue Door Artworks (115 N. Wisconsin St., Back Alley) and The Porch Bar (365 Main Ave. Suite D).

“Our downtown’s economic vitality is focused on adding more businesses and retaining them,” she said.

Public art, Quigley said, contributes to making the downtown more vibrant and welcoming.

With that in mind, she said a new multi-building mural will begin taking shape this year on several buildings along Broadway.

Quigley also highlighted the area’s many events, which bring more than 100,000 people downtown annually.

“Those people are eating at local restaurants and shopping at our stores,” she said. “The events bring them here and show them what we offer.”

Quigley said the new Nelson Family Pavilion, which opens July 26 in Voyageur Park, will be able to host events for up to 250 inside.

The adjoining patio stage area, she said, will provide room for the park to host concerts for more than 5,000 people.

SNC update

Joyner said as a vital part of the downtown and community, SNC is adapting and innovating to face the challenges facing higher education.

She said fewer students are going to college – whether it’s demographics (fewer people) or the economy (students entering the workforce after graduation).

During the past year, the college has cut more than 50 jobs.

Joyner said SNC created a five-part plan to address the challenges, which include an amplified mission, academic innovation, excellence in athletics, community engagement and financial stability.

The college, she said, is also partnering with the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to allow students in selected programs to study at both schools.

“This will allow us to enhance academic opportunities for our students and do away with some redundancies between the two schools,” she said.

Joyner said the college is adding 12 new areas of study to match growing job markets, including finance, engineering, physics, data analytics, robotics, marketing and game development.

SNC, she said, is also in the middle of a $125-million campaign to raise funds for its endowment.

Joyner said increasing the endowment will improve the college’s overall financial stability, make education more affordable for students and allow it to expand its programs.

“We want a responsible budget as we preserve our legacy and move forward,” she said.

Chamber update

David Vander Bloomen has been the interim president and CEO of the De Pere Chamber of Commerce for less than two months, but he said he is already eyeing several changes to help the organization better meet the needs of area businesses.

“I’m seeing this as an opportunity to reset and make De Pere stronger by building connections and educating businesses and citizens,” Vander Bloomen said. “Our community is what makes our businesses strong.”

Vander Bloomen – who served as a chamber board member before assuming the role of interim president – shared some of the new offerings the chamber is working on, including Lunch and Learns, business leader think tanks, support for start-ups, business basics and growing the chamber’s foundation.

Since taking over as director, Vander Bloomen said the foundation implemented a new set of bylaws and is pulling together a board of directors.

“We see the foundation as a way to give back to the community,” he said. “The chamber is healthy, growing and energetic. I continue to meet with people and ask them what they want the chamber to provide and how we can help.”

Housing update

Like many other Northeast Wisconsin communities, Boyd said De Pere needs more affordable and workforce housing. 

“The housing stock undergoes cycles, and right now, we are focused on providing more affordable housing,” he said.

The city’s Deeper Roots program, Boyd said, provides a $20,000 no-interest loan to homeowners looking to make systems or efficiency updates to their residences.

Boyd also shared the city is partnering with the Greater Green Bay Habitat for Humanity on two Rock the Block initiatives.

James Boyd

The first one will be on the city’s east side this fall while the west side will have its event in 2026.

During Rock the Block, Boyd said, residents, municipalities, community partners and donors come together to repair homes for eligible low-income homeowners and improve community spaces.

On average, he said 20-30 projects are completed during the week-long program. 

“We are excited about the Habitat programs,” he said. “We are also working on Look Up De Pere and an affordable lot purchase program – two other projects designed to make housing more affordable. There will be more information to come on both.”

In 2023, Boyd said 275 housing units were built in three new developments in De Pere – adding to the city’s property tax base and its pool of housing.

Continued growth

Another area of the city that has seen continued growth, Boyd said, is its business parks.

He said the city continues to add to them as companies expand or new companies put down roots.

“We want our companies to expand their roots deeper in De Pere,” he said. “Our business parks are busy, but we still have room for more growth.”

After 60 years, Boyd said work will finally begin on the Southern Bridge Connector project, which will create a new highway running from Packerland Drive to County GV, including a new Interstate 41 interchange and creating a second Fox River crossing in the city.

“After all the talk and waiting, it is finally happening, and the bridge will be monumental for our community,” he said.

Boyd said the entire project is expected to be finished in 2029. 

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