GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) — In the home of the longest-serving mayor in Green Bay history, it’s time to reminisce. 

“I’ve had some great experiences, and I think there are new ones coming.”

About what has been accomplished, what lies ahead, and how the journey ever started.

“I just felt the city could be doing more,” says outgoing mayor Jim Schmitt. “I thought the city could be doing better.”

In October of 2002, Schmitt, a small business owner, and Brown County supervisor, announced his intent to run for mayor.

“We’ll focus on Green Bay neighborhood communities.  I’ll work to continue the efforts to revitalize neighborhoods in need but I will also work with all neighborhoods those on the east and west sides and throughout Green Bay.”

Six months later, he was elected.

“Kind of an unknown at the time a little bit, but that’s what I wanted to do, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

In that first term, Schmitt connected with kids, founding Kids’ day, a city-wide celebration with a parade and free events. It’s held each June 25.

“We won awards for that, and we have over 10,000 kids that participate every year which is pretty cool.”

While turning his attention to the city’s downtown, the start of an effort that will likely define his career.

“It just wasn’t getting the investment, quite honestly wasn’t getting the respect that we deserved as a city so that was a top priority for me.”

Under Schmitt’s administration, downtown development blossomed, with investments north of $250 million. From the CityDeck, serving up fun along the Fox… 

“That was a catalyst we needed that CityDeck.”

…to an expanded K-I convention center, new Nicolet Bank, Schreiber Foods, CityDeck Landing, Metreau Apartments, and special programming like the Farmers’ Market on Broadway and Fridays on the Fox. Projects that Schmitt says have created a vibrant downtown, sought after by young professionals.

“We knew that if we were going to be a community that was going to attract talented individuals to work here and buy homes and invest, we needed to offer them something unique.”

One development Schmitt fought to prevent was a proposed Walmart in the Broadway district. A rezoning request for land on the former Larsen Green site was ultimately rejected by city council.

“A superstore Walmart with 600 surface parking spots is not this unique, vibrant, healthy, downtown that attracts and retains talent.”

And one development Schmitt is most proud of is Hotel Northland, which opened in February after years of legal stops and starts and a decade of planning. 

“That Hotel Northland is really going to pay some big dividends in the future for Green  Bay.”

As a politician, Schmitt admits he’s not perfect, narrowly surviving a vote by city council in  2017 to remove him from office after pleading guilty to three misdemeanor campaign finance violations. 

“That was a tough time, and look, that was right in this house, not detailed bookkeeping with 7 people who gave over the amount of $1,000 over a four year period.

“Look I accept that, and I pleaded guilty to it. I said sorry. It happened. It will never happen again.”

But Schmitt says it was an issue that some on the council wouldn’t let go of.

“I thought some people on council kind of really made hay of that and brought it up again and again and wanted to retry me that was the difficult thing.

“I signed up for the job and that’s the way it is and I accept it.”

But soon, the responsibilities of the mayor’s office will end for Schmitt, who attended over 500 events each year representing the city, who often worked days on end to make sure budgets were balanced and projects would succeed, who always looked for ways to improve the community.

“His mind is always working and thinking about how he could make it better,” says Dona Schmitt, the mayor’s wife. “And he always made his decisions on what is right for Green Bay.”

When asked what he would like people to remember about his administration, Schmitt responded:

“He was tenacious at times, kind of a stronger personality, but at the end of the day, he loved this city. And that’s what I hope people do is they love Green Bay as much as I do, and that would be awesome.”