The City of Green Bay, Wisconsin is a family-friendly, affordable getaway that welcomes 5.5 million visitors annually, drawn to the region’s many attractions, including a beautiful waterfront, the backdrop for memorable events and moments for residents and visitors alike.
To support this influx of visitors while preserving and even improving the quality of life of its residents, the city’s leadership makes strategic investments in the infrastructure and amenities to create an economically prosperous, vibrant, diverse, and environmentally conscious community that welcomes all.
Mayor Eric Genrich highlighted some of the priorities of Green Bay including, “Diversity in housing types and neighborhoods and experiences: we want to be an open, welcoming community that really appreciates diverse experiences and backgrounds.”
Down by the Bay
As a Great Lakes coastal community named for the bay on which it is located, industry in Green Bay has long prospered from its position at the mouth of a working river, the Fox River. Last year, 1.75 million tons of cargo moved through the Port of Green Bay. Countless individuals and families flocked to the water for fun and enjoyment.
“People love to be on the water. We haven’t always had the right balance, the right orientation between our natural resources and our industry and I think we’ve gone a long way to strike the right balance here,” says Mayor Genrich.
From Fox River cleanups that are bringing the river back to health, to redevelopment efforts at industrial sites, there has been significant time and money invested to make the waterfront a place for everyone and everything to thrive, and in particular, tourism.
In 2021, tourism accounted for a total economic impact of more than $1 billion on the economy of Brown County and generated $86 million in local tax revenue for the City of Green Bay, and looking ahead, the future is nothing but bright thanks to key investments in the waterfront infrastructure.
A recent downtown dock wall renovation and expansion project enabled the return of cruise ships to Green Bay for the first time in decades. Last year, two Great Lakes cruise ships docked there, and in 2023 more are expected, which will be a great opportunity for businesses in the downtown, an area that has been the focus of redevelopment for some time.
President and CEO of Discover Green Bay Brad Toll notes, “The strength and well-being of our community are predicated on a strong downtown space and city center. Much like in the human body, it’s the heart that pumps lifeblood into our region. The tourism economy in Green Bay is making a strong comeback from the COVID pandemic in large part because of our downtown amenities and developments.”
Adjacent to the dock project on the western shoreline, two large waterfront park expansion projects are underway, one at Leicht Memorial Park and the other at Shipyard Park, designed to include floating docks, fishing piers, kayak launches, and concert stages.
The waterfront is also home to Bay Beach, one of the oldest and best-known municipally-owned amusement parks in the United States, the City Deck promenade which is a great place to enjoy Green Bay’s four seasons, and the world’s largest freshwater estuary, which means residents and tourists share the area with countless bird and animal species that call the area home—a nature enthusiast’s dream!
What sets Green Bay apart is that the focus on conservation has not been at the expense of the economy. Industries are also seeing massive investment with Green Bay Packaging opening a new $500 million paperboard mill and Georgia-Pacific expanding its Broadway mill with a $500 million investment, a true testament to the environmental/economic balance the Mayor spoke of.
It’s no secret that the pandemic was a blow to tourism worldwide and Green Bay was not immune. To negate this impact, there has been a concerted effort to not only return the sector to strength but also to take attraction efforts to the next level.
“We’ve bounced back strongly, thanks in part to some of the programs we’ve put in place here but really because of the work of our business community continuing to be incredibly resilient in the face of a once-in-a-century pandemic,” says Mayor Genrich.
The city committed $450,000 in ARPA funds to create a tourism events grant that has seeded a number of new events and expanded others, such as the highly successful Sistine Chapel Art Exhibit, the UWGB Jazz Festival, and the Levitt AMP music series.
The Mayor also credited the State of Wisconsin for being “all-in” when it came to supporting tourism, as $2.5 million were dedicated to Discover Green Bay and its efforts to establish a new visitor’s center to improve the guest experience and encourage visitors to explore more of what the region has to offer.
Mayor Genrich explains the visitor center and its impact on the community: “It’s going to be a great front door for us as a community to have a brand new visitor center close to Lambeau.” He says it will tell a broader story about the city and all it has to offer.
“When people think about visitors’ centers, they don’t always think about the role they can play in attracting talented individuals to permanently relocate to your community, but that’s the way that Discover Green Bay looks at things.”
Room + willingness equals growth
Through its focus on tourism and development, Green Bay is supporting an improved quality of life for its residents which makes it attractive to visitors, prospective residents, and businesses looking to invest in a community that’s on the right trajectory.
For all of these reasons and more, U.S. News & World Report ranked Green Bay the third best community to live in in the country for its attractive way of life, cost of living, and the natural endowments and amenities it offers.
Always great places to sample the flavors of a community are local farmers’ markets or public market spaces and Green Bay will soon have a new public market to enjoy. The city has invested $500,000 in renovations to Old Fort Square, which is in the Broadway business improvement district. The reimagined space will be home to the market which is scheduled to open this fall.
Another highly anticipated addition to the community is the Mulva Cultural Center which is slated to open this year in De Pere, just south of Green Bay. This promises to be a world-class cultural destination that will showcase traveling exhibits and will boast a state-of-the-art theater, education center, and other community-enriching spaces that will support the embrace of diversity as part of the city’s growth.
Reflecting on Green Bay’s growth, the Mayor referred to it as a “Goldilocks” kind of community: “We’re not too small and we’re not too large and we’re not too densely populated at this point; we have a lot of room to redevelop and take on these infill projects at brownfield industrial sites, repurposing them for residential and commercial development, so we’re uniquely positioned to grow but grow in a way that is completely manageable.”
By growing steadily and strategically, Green Bay has developed into a truly unique destination. If you haven’t already been, it should be on your U.S. travel bucket list. Like many other visitors to the region, it will leave you planning your return in the not-so-distant future.