Green Bay seems to have a plan...why doesn't Milwaukee?
Green Bay is about to be more than just paper and Packers.
The Wisconsin State Journal has the details on a plan to turn the Fox Valley's largest city into a sports mecca, and not just of the NFL variety. Green Bay already secured the WIAA girls high school basketball championships the next two years, and apparently has no intention of allowing them to return to Madison. Other efforts around the city are dove-tailing with plans the Packers have to increase their footprint around Lambeau Field.
The result: Green Bay flexing it's muscles as a destination for youth sports, amateur athletics and, of course, all things green and gold.
Brad Toll heads up the Greater Green Bay and the Lakeshore Convention and Visitors Bureau. He and Ken Wachter of PMI Entertainment are the driving forces, not just behind the securing of the girl's hoop tourney but of the entire vision. What seemed like a Fox Valley power play to swipe high school basketball tournaments of both genders from Madison is turning out to be only part of a plan to invigorate the Fox Valley economy by establishing the Green Bay area as a sports destination on several levels.
Soccer fields are already going up in one part of the city, a venue that could host tournaments from around the state. There are multiple ice sheets available at the Cornerstone Ice complex which is hosting national curling and short-track speed-skating events. The two men say the Packers will eventually build a new practice facility east of Lambeau, leaving the Don Hutson Center open for--you guessed it--more youth sports activities. The Hutson switch-out is part of the Pack's plan to eventually create an entertainment district along Lombardi Avenue right up to Highway 41. On the other side of the stadium sits the Brown County Arena and ShopKo Hall, venues the two would like to see replaced with a 100,000 square foot exhibition hall. If all this comes together, one can envision a day when there'll be tons of cars heading north to Green Bay for soccer, hockey, skating and all manner of sports and entertainment options. Remember, they already had the foresight to build the Resch Center, a multi-purpose arena that's just the right size for the city it serves and the teams that play there.
Contrast all of this energy and foresight with what's happening here in Milwaukee where we're hard-pressed to talk in earnest about the future of the Bradley Center, not to mention the mish-mash of Wisconsin Center District venues that may be too small (the Frontier Airlines Center) to compete nationally, too old/small to host a major sport (the Arena) or under-utilized/unnecessary (the Milwaukee Theater). Downtown still bears the open wound where the Park East freeway once stood, vacant land that's still home to far too many gulls and way too little in the way of new construction.
Then there's Michael Hunt's Journal/Sentinel column on UWM's athletic department mess, one that includes questions about sports venues both existing (the Arena, which Panther students avoid in droves during the hoop season as well as the D-One baseball program's inadequate diamond) and proposed (all that talk from former AD George Koonce about an on-campus basketball arena seems to be getting more cred of late).
Green Bay is putting all of the pieces together and creating a plan, one that slowly and surely seems to be producing results. They seem to think that a rising tide will lift all boats, and that everyone wins if a well-thought-out plan gets executed.
Then look south to Milwaukee, where no one seems to want to take the lead, where competing interests mean stagnation and an inability to address obvious problems. Worse, the inertia creates a municipal malaise. No one wants to celebrate the possibilities. We see only problems.
While Green Bay and the Fox Valley create a niche that may upset the status quo, the Milwaukee area cowers. Green Bay stands to become an even hotter destination, using various assets to create a niche. Milwaukee shakes it's collective head, wondering what to do with it's odd mix of venues, vacant land, and missed opportunities.
Dollars,meanwhile, flow elsewhere.
The difference between Green Bay and Milwaukee is about more than the Packers. Ask Madison, which lost the state girl's high school basketball tournament to it's predatory, ambitious, forward-thinking neighbor. Do you want to be in a city that's aggressive and willing to say, "Why not?" Or, do you want to be in a town where the answer to every issue starts with blue-ribbon panels and white-paper analysis, where shelves fill with unread reports and problems go unanswered?
The State Journal article should be required reading for anyone in Milwaukee who considers himself or herself a leader. It's a peek into the opposition's playbook and a shot over the bow--you can bet there are more cities around the country = willing to pick Milwaukee's bones clean in their effort to make their towns better.
Green Bay seems up to the challenge. Can Milwaukee respond?