EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Plans for the vacancy left by Shopko cleared two hurdles in City Council last week, spurring the potential for continued economic revitalization of the area.  
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Plans for the vacancy left by Shopko cleared two hurdles in City Council last week, spurring the potential for continued economic revitalization of the area.  

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MARINETTE — During the City of Marinette’s 2015 spring election, concerns and ideas were floated by mayoral candidates regarding vacancies that sat like dusty, deep and foreboding economic voids in the Pine Tree Mall area.

Since that time, the mall and surrounding area made important strides toward resurrecting a prosperous economic spark thanks to a flurry of activities that included revitalizing the Phoenix Theatre, the city’s initiative to blanket the area in a tax increment financing (TIF) zone and various other efforts by local government and businesses. 

Last week, two significant projects made further headway in boosting the continued momentum of present and future development, promising new venues for customers venturing to that highly trafficked retail and commercial prospect.

But that growth still faces some challenges.

PROJECT 1

The first project, conditionally approved by City Council in October, broke ground last week after submitting slight architectural and site changes to the council for additional authorization. The council approved those changes which consisted of a slight reduction in the size of the project, reducing its footprint from a structure housing three tenant spaces to one with only two. The change eliminated approximately 1,100 square feet. 

Market forces drove the decision for decreasing the size, according to the project’s Principal Architect Adam Stein, of Milwaukee’s Logic Design & Architect Inc. He pointed out the neighboring building, where Starbucks resides; half the building continues to remains an unused retail space. 

“It really is just a market demand,” Stein told City Council last week. “We see the tenant space directly adjacent to Starbucks still vacant, so it was a developer decision to tweak (the project) and shrink it down.” 

The project, is occurring north of the Starbucks. It will house an Aspen Dental as the primary tenant. Stein reported that a second tenant had also signed the lease for the adjacent space.  

In the last two months, on several occasions Mayor Steve Genisot acknowledged several challenges in the realms of workforce, affordable housing, business development and in the marketing of Marinette. But the tone of his remarks never wavered from the positive. In fact, he heads to the nation’s capital later this week to attend a White House Roundtable on affordable housing, a major impediment for the progress of small city economies and their growth. 

“We have lot of challenges right now,” Genisot said in October. “But a lot of good stuff is happening. It’s always easy to find the tough stuff, but we have a lot of momentum and a lot of good people trying to get all the good ideas in the same room and then come up with a plan.”

PROJECT 2

And more of that “good stuff” is slated for the old Shopko location. 

A proposal by a Michigan developer, Moyle Real Estate & Development, cleared two hurdles last week on its way to final approval by the City. It plans to convert the former Shopko building, placing an indoor climate-controlled storage facility in the rear with retail space occupying the building’s front side. Last week City Council approved zoning changes to the Marinette Municipal Code, to permit the use of “Indoor Climate-Controlled Storage Facilities” and also voted unanimously to approve the company’s site plan. 

The new project will rehabilitate an existing vacancy left behind when Shopko closed its doors to Marinette and communities across the country after the company filed for bankruptcy in January. Moyle Development representative Andrew Kemper further emphasized the positive impact the new facility could bring. 

“Our project is a good reuse of an existing building that allows for small businesses,” Kemper said. “It also solves a need in the community with storage. From what we understand, housing is an issue in this community and there is a large manufacturing sector in this area ... and with that there is a need for storage space.” 

According to Jackie Horsell, another company representative, the proposed plan will replace the over 80,000 square feet of unused business potential left behind when Shopko closed, with approximately 50% retail and 50% climate-controlled storage. Most of the construction work would involve interior restructuring, so that the exterior of the building would change very little. 

“The City of Marinette has been great to work with,” Kemper said. “They welcome developers with open arms and we are excited to be teaming with the community (in Marinette) to develop another successful project.”

The conditional use permit still needs to clear council decision during a vote that will occur in December. Usually, the conditional use permit precedes the site plan in development projects. However, City of Marinette Attorney Jonathon Sbar cited the impending winter as the reason for the small procedural change to the timetable.

“Their site plan is ready, winter is coming early, construction season is evaporating,” Sbar said. “(The developer) wants to get in as many steps as possible and get their approvals.”