Proposed Titletown District development expects to draw thousands more each year to the hallowed grounds near Lambeau Field
Story by Sean Fitzgerald, New North B2B publisher
For die-hard Green Bay Packers fans who make the pilgrimage to 1265 Lombardi Avenue on Sundays each fall, the ritual is often one as heralded as the football franchise itself.
A Prairie Home Companion storyteller Garrison Keillor couldn’t even spin a yarn about a day at the football game where fans arrive early to tailgate with booyah and a hot grill canopied in bratwurst, detour to a few neighboring taverns on the walk into the stadium, and perhaps even a visit to the Hall of Fame and the Packers Pro Shop before grabbing their seat just in time for kickoff. It’s all become part of the Packers experience which accompanies the sensation of a Lambeau Field victory for many loyal fans, one which provides a cherished lifetime memory beyond feelings achieved by watching the game on a large television screen from one’s living room reclining chair.
That distinct experience – including all the activities ancillary to the game itself – is driving the $65 million investment from the Packers in the Titletown District, a proposed 34-acre development west of Lambeau Field. Another $55 to $65 million will be invested by inaugural tenants Kohler Co., Bellin Health and Hinterland Brewery Restaurant.
Once the initial phase of the development is complete in 2017, Packer fans around the globe making the journey to Green Bay can sleep in the comfort of a four diamond Lodge Kohler across the street from Lambeau, cross the park-like plaza for a beer and some gourmet food on the patio at Hinterland, and on the way back to the hotel pass by the Bellin Health Sports Medicine Clinic where the Packers team physician practices.
“The fan experience is not only when they’re in the stadium for three hours,” said Mark Murphy, president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers, who sat down along with Packers Vice President and General Counsel Ed Policy for an interview with New North B2B magazine in late September. “But what we tried to do (with the Titletown District proposal) is enhance the fan experience without taking away from what makes Lambeau Field special. This is really to make Lambeau Field – and Green Bay – more of a destination.”
Building off of other sound investments
During the past five years, the organization has invested heavily in the stadium itself. More than $300 million in improvements including a new sound system, new video boards four times larger than their predecessors, the expansion of the south end zone, three new entrance gates, stadium-wide Wi-Fi access, a new pro shop, a new hall of fame, and the new 1919 Restaurant.
Murphy emphasized the importance of proactively investing in the organization’s infrastructure. In fact, he told B2B, “I don’t think the stadium will ever be ‘done.’ I think we have to continue to invest in it.”
However, the Titletown District is an investment outside the stadium itself. Such professional sports development district attractions aren’t uncommon. Among those from National Football League franchises that garner noteworthy attention, Patriot Place at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. often tops the list. But the Titletown District will be different, Murphy acknowledged.
“(Patriot Place) is purely commercial,” he said. “Ours will have a public plaza which will be roughly a third of the whole space. There’s nothing like that at Patriot Place.”
Another contrast: Titletown also includes plans for a residential component, a series of 30 to 50 townhouses along the south side of the district, with backyards and patios facing the public plaza.
The 10-acre plaza will be the centerpiece of the mixed-use commercial, lodging and residential development. And while plans still aren’t yet finalized for the development of the plaza, conceptual drawings include ideas for a winter ice skating rink, a full-size football field, a small amphitheater, and even a 12-foot high replica Bart Starr Super Bowl I championship ring visitors can walk through. Murphy said the plaza will include public art, and on game day will sport pop-up tents with select vendors to help enhance the festive environment.
A series of community focus groups the Packers are conducting with the assistance of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures will help define the final blueprint for the plaza.
Altogether, the entirety of the attraction should boost existing nearby businesses, as well as help spur economic growth by drawing other marquee enterprises to the Greater Green Bay area.
“I think Cabela’s (the outdoor retailer further west on Lombardi Avenue, which was the Packers first commercial development in 2013) is a good example. If we can help bring to the community a business that wouldn’t come otherwise – because of Lambeau Field, and the attraction, and the connection to the Packers – that’s a real benefit to the community,” noted Murphy.
Such unique attractions – coupled with the Green Bay Packer experience – mean more visitors and more outside dollars flowing into the regional economy.
“The more people we bring into the community with these attractions – Cabela’s, I think, last year it was 2.8 million visitors they brought in – when those people are in the community, they’re going to Lambeau Field to take a tour, go to our pro shop, take a tour of the hall of fame, go to our restaurant,” Murphy said. “It’s helping the community when people are staying here multiple days, they’re going to spend time at restaurants, shops, and go downtown.”
Evolution of a vision
Both Murphy and Policy acknowledge the organization’s goal of expanding the year round accessibility to the Green Bay Packers experience existed before either arrived in Titletown. The organization began acquiring properties around the stadium early last decade.
Early visions for such a district near Lambeau were actually to the east of the stadium where the Brown County Arena and the former Hall of Fame building reside, but ownership of the properties among multiple governing jurisdictions complicated such a vision. The Packers hoped to control the district on their own.
Last decade, the organization began purchasing individual parcels to the west of Ridge Road, most notably the former Kmart department store and Kohl’s grocery store.
“Our basic philosophy was to deal with all the landowners in a very up front way,” Policy said. “I think it’s safe to say we were on the generous side of ‘fair’ with all the property we bought over there.”
Ultimately, the Packers organization brought together 34 acres, marking another notable distinction between the Titletown District and other similar entertainment districts associated with professional sports franchises.
“It’s hard for an NFL team to cobble together this much contiguous land adjacent to their stadium,” Policy said, noting other franchise are in much larger metropolitan areas often with substantially higher property values. “There’s very few places where you’d be able to do that, and do it at a hopefully somewhat affordable rate.”
Beginning in 2012 and 2013, Murphy and Policy initiated discussions with Kohler, Bellin and Hinterland, each of which entered into long-term ground leases with the Packers to occupy their respective facilities within the district.
“Those three were really hand-picked and recruited by the organization,” Policy said.
One common strand is that all three initial partners are based in Wisconsin, Murphy noted.
“Kohler has a great reputation for hospitality and excellent service,” Murphy said. “Hinterland is probably considered by most people to be the best restaurant in the area. To have them be one of our anchor tenants made a lot of sense.”
“And we’re really excited about the (Bellin) health clinic,” Murphy said. “Their connection to (Packer team physician Dr.) Pat McKenzie will help draw people from across the country.”
There’s still an estimated 180,000 square feet of retail, dining and entertainment space available for the Packers to lease to prospective tenants. Murphy noted the Wisconsin-borne-and-bred nature of the initial three tenants isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for future tenants.
“We had a lot of other retailers call us, some of whom we’re still talking to,” Policy said, although he’s unable to share specific names of businesses citing non-disclosure agreements in force during negotiations.
Both Murphy and Policy indicated much of the remaining space will likely be filled by family entertainment venues and other “fine dining restaurants,” including some a bit more casual at lower price points, according to Policy.
While there’s no timeline for constructing the final portions of the district – which could even begin simultaneous to work on the initial phases, Policy said – the Packers are more concerned about controlling the quality of the experience than they are simply in filling a void.
“We’re kind of focused on getting the right tenant mix,” Policy said. “It potentially could happen very quickly.”
Brewery restaurant adds touch of class
Moving into an expanded Hinterland Brewery Restaurant in spring 2017 would enable Bill and Michelle Tressler to nearly triple their craft beer production and grow the quaint farm-to-table dining experience to a much wider audience.
It’s still comes with some risks, but it’s a bet in which Bill Tressler holds a good deal of confidence.
“It’s such a unique project because of its proximity to Lambeau Field and the investment by the Packers,” Tressler said. “It would be a hard opportunity to miss out on if we didn’t do it now.”
A native of Green Bay and former journalist/rocker/skater turned brewer, Tressler and his wife moved back to the area from San Francisco in 1995 and opened Hinterland in an old cheese factory.
By 1999 they moved into an old, two-story former meat-packing warehouse on the corner of Broadway and Dousman streets in Green Bay, using about 3,500 square feet of space to brew less than a 1,000 barrels of beer each year, Tressler said.
Today, Hinterland brews about 6,100 barrels annually as a result of a more aggressive distribution strategy initiated in 2010. Space is tight, and the flow of production is inefficient and faces “operational congestion.”
As craft beers continue to gain increasing demand from a wider audience, as well as capitalizing on recent success of its Packerland Pilsner, Tressler is preparing for a new Hinterland facility to brew as much as 20,000 barrels annually in the next four to five years.
The proposed 20,000-sq. ft. Hinterland Restaurant in the Titletown District will feature a main floor brewpub and restaurant with retractable exterior walls. The upper level of the restaurant will offer more intimate seating for 50 to 75 guests, along with private event rooms. Paired with its distinctive menu, the look and feel of the new Hinterland plays right into the intentions of the Titletown District.
“Our focus has shifted from being a small local restaurant to being a sought-after destination,” Tressler said. “We’re really designing an overall experience that heightens the senses from the moment you walk in the door.”
The brewery itself will be available for tours, a marketing opportunity he’s been surprised to see grow as fervently as it has at Hinterland in the past couple of years.
Tressler admits he and his wife are still amazed to be a part of the Titletown District, particularly since they’ve kept their conversations with the Packers during the past three years confidential from employees, vendors and regular patrons. “I thought it was a bit of a long shot, to be honest,” he said.
Ultimately, Tressler believes the Titletown District and Hinterland’s role in it will boost economic development in the region, as well as attract and retain a quality workforce.
“I love their vision for it,” Tressler concluded. “What they’re really trying to do is make it a 365-day-a-year place to visit. It’s not just about game day anymore.”
Bellin: Engage healthy lifestyles
Green Bay-based Bellin Health has long been the official health care partner of the Green Bay Packers. Now its plans for a nearly 30,000-sq. ft. sports medicine facility in the Titletown District to extend that mature relationship, which blossomed with a 2012 strategic partnership agreement with the Packers called Titletown Wellness, said Chris Woleske, executive vice president for hospital and health care at Bellin.
Titletown Wellness uses the influence of favorite players to help promote healthy lifestyles among Greater Green Bay area residents, Woleske said. Through various community outreach channels, the collaborative health initiative brings attention to flu clinics, stroke and heart health, breast cancer awareness, and proper diet and exercise, among other topics.
Woleske said he clinic will consolidate some resources from other clinics across Bellin’s network, but won’t necessarily replace or eliminate services like physical therapy, injury treatment or diagnostic services provided at other clinic locations. The clinic will be available to patients just like most other Bellin locations, Woleske said, though this will be in the shadows of Lambeau Field and showcase the high quality of health care extended to Packers players and their families.
“This (clinic) will extend that VIP experience to all patients,” Woleske said.
Designs for the clinic aren’t quite complete as of late September. As a result, Woleske said she couldn’t break any news regarding unique design elements to the facility, only to reveal they’d be made public in the next few months. But it will further extend the mission of Titletown Wellness to visitors as well as community residents.
“We’re going to use our facility at Lambeau to get people engaged through a healthier, more active lifestyle,” Woleske said
Kohler: Reputation for impeccable hospitality
Kohler Company is well known globally for its plumbing fixtures, and the success of that business had spawned its Kohler Co. Hospitality & Real Estate Group. While that name might not be as familiar, the properties it manages hold significant notoriety – The American Club and Inn on Woodlake in Kohler, as well as The Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews, Scotland.
Lodge Kohler will be the hospitality firm’s fourth hotel, featuring 150 guest rooms, a panoramic bar and restaurant, an indoor/outdoor garden pool, and spa and fitness facility.
The Packers’ Policy believes this hotel relationship can help spark a new line of business for the organization.
“One of the (segments) we’re hoping to establish with this new four-star hotel is to build out more of a corporate retreat business here, particularly in the off-season,” said Policy, emphasizing the diverse meeting and convening spaces available at Lambeau Field.
Funding the project – moving forward
The Green Bay Packers organization intends to fund much of the project on its own. Murphy said he and the organization never considered seeking funds from the Brown County Professional Stadium District, the entity established to oversee and appropriate the more than $300 million in revenues generated in Brown County through a half-percent sales tax, which ended last month after nearly 15 years of collections.
Murphy said the organization may possibly seek tax incremental finance assistance for future components of the development that would offer improved access to the public, such as a parking structure, but noted no such need has been defined at this point.
“There will be some initiatives within this that will be appropriate for TIF financing,” Policy said.
The Packers submitted an application for a planned unit development to the Village of Ashwaubenon in late September. Policy said the organization hopes the proposal can go before the village’s planning commission in October, allowing for the village board of supervisors to ultimately approve the development before the end of the year. Policy said such a timeline would enable work to begin on sub-grade infrastructure and utilities before the proverbial tundra freezes for three months before the spring thaw.
Construction of the hotel, sports medicine clinic and restaurant and brewery could begin by next summer, with plans to have this already announced phase complete by the following summer, just in time for the beginning of training camp for the 2017 NFL season.
At it’s most basic level, this Titletown District investment isn’t about winning Super Bowls or packing more fans into Lambeau Field, but about enhancing economic development and enhancing the sense of place that makes Green Bay special.
“The community element of this is huge, ” said Policy. “It’s even more than expanding the Packer brand. I think it’s building out the Titletown brand, which I think is a brand that’s not just the Packers – it’s the entire community.”