GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) — “Things pre-Schmitt? I describe them, in my own words, as a bit of a rut.”
Like much of the manufacturing midwest, there were changes in the ’80s and ’90s. Old stable industries were not what they used to be, and a new mayor was walking into office with optimism.
“He was able to motivate folks and get them to look over the horizon a bit to what we could be,” says longtime Green Bay businessman Rick Beverstein.
Schmitt believed healthy communities needed a vibrant downtown.
“When I was a kid growing up, everything was downtown. That’s where you went. That’s where the movie theaters were, that’s where the buses took you, that’s where the shopping was. That’s where you wanted to be.”
The culture had to change and embrace our greatest natural unifier.
“Historically, buildings did not face the river. They faced the streets that bordered the river. No one looked at the river. That’s where you just parked your car and went on to the street.”
The City Deck project was Schmitt’s attempt at flipping the focus.
Rick Beverstein; Longtime Green Bay Businessman
“The city deck brought our focus to the river rather than our backs to the river.”
Beverstein says 25 years ago, housing downtown was another barrier to entry.
“And now you see virtually no vacancies in the housing that’s there and more and more on the drawing board and more being built.”
The shipyard project and losing Walmart at the Larsen-Green site are seen as head-scratchers, but Beverstein says the mayor stood by his beliefs and says Walmart would have been a “Band-Aid” fix.
“That took some courage, and it took some leadership. It took belief in his convictions which, to this point, have proven to be correct.”
New challenges are ahead, but he believes Green Bay is much better off on the way out of the Schmitt-era than on the way in.
“We’ll see over the next coming years how this city responds, but we’re in a far better spot now than we would have been without Jim Schmitt.”