Apartments atop a new fire station? Why Green Bay wants to explore the idea

The former Badger Sheet Metal site in the 400 block of South Broadway. The city of Green Bay is gauging developers interest in combining housing with a new Green Bay Metro fire station on the site.
The former Badger Sheet Metal site in the 400 block of South Broadway. The city of Green Bay is gauging developers interest in combining housing with a new Green Bay Metro fire station on the site.

GREEN BAY — The city of Green Bay needs a new central city fire station, and the preferred option under consideration would incorporate apartments and commercial space to one site plan.

The city's Community Development and Metro Fire departments on Feb. 15 sent to property developers and construction firms a request for qualifications and interest in partnering on such a concept. Responses are due March 18.

The new station would replace an aging, west-side station house that's nearly 90 years old now.

The request envisions a new station, new Metro Fire administrative offices, more than 200 apartments, commercial spaces along Broadway and green infrastructure on the former Badger Sheet Metal site, in the 400 block of South Broadway. The site is part of the city's Shipyard Redevelopment Area on the western shore of the Fox River and the existing structures on the building will be demolished this year, said Matt Buchanan, Green Bay's deputy development director.

It's also very close to Metro Fire's "optimal" location for a new central city fire station, based on site analyses and a need to maintain quick incident response times, said Fire Chief Matthew Knott. He said the collaborative, mixed-use approach is exciting to explore, even if it's still in the very earliest stages.

"We think of this project as a really groundbreaking approach," Knott said. "It's a new model we have in this area. The property is absolutely prime for development, but it's also a perfect location for us to put a fire station. We look at it as a win-win for everyone."

Supporters of the new approach say a public-private development could solve three challenges the city faces. And while emergency sirens at all hours of the night might not seem to mesh well with 200 housing units, Knott said the department regularly shows it is a good neighbor to nearby residents and would do so here, too.

Where on Broadway does Green Bay want to put a new fire station?

Badger Sheet Metal formerly occupied the largest chunk of the 5.25-acres the Redevelopment Authority now owns on the west side of South Broadway, just north of the Mason Street bridge. The odd-shaped site is bounded by South Broadway, Arndt Street, South Maple Avenue and the Wisconsin Central rail line. It's a key location that can connect Seymour Park, the Broadway District, the Shipyard Neighborhood and the new public facilities under development along the Fox River.

The city in 2018 purchased the Badger Sheet Metal site as part of broader efforts to revitalize the Shipyard area along South Broadway, north of the Mason Street overpass. It has secured a $1 million Environmental Protection Agency grant to demolish the buildings and remove contaminated soil from the site.

Public improvements are already underway in the Shipyard area, across Broadway from the Badger Sheet Metal site, financed in part by $10 million the city borrowed several years ago.

Green Bay Metro Fire Station 1, 505 S. Washington St., houses the department's administrative offices.
Green Bay Metro Fire Station 1, 505 S. Washington St., houses the department's administrative offices.

Which Green Bay Metro Fire station would close?

Green Bay Metro Fire needs to replace Station 3, 885 Shawano Ave. Built in 1937, the station house has been updated over the years, but currently has issues that include a lack of space for modern firefighting vehicles, no fire sprinklers, mold issues, and inadequate facilities, according to an Oct. 16 presentation to the city's Ad Hoc Facilities Committee.

The department also needs a new headquarters space to replace Station 1, 501 S. Washington St. It also is undersized for current firefighting vehicles, does not accommodate administrative needs and has inadequate facilities.

Knott said both buildings are in "very poor condition" and that a new fire engine for Station 3 had to be specially designed to fit in the station's smaller engine bays. "It's been a real struggle and challenge to make it work," he said.

Green Bay Metro Fire Station No. 3, 885 Shawano Avenue.
Green Bay Metro Fire Station No. 3, 885 Shawano Avenue.

The Badger Sheet Metal site works best because Green Bay Metro fire can maintain its response times

The new station needs to stay on the west side of the Fox River so the fire department can maintain quick response times to the areas currently served by Station 3.

Knott said Green Bay Metro Fire likes to maintain an average response time of 4-6 minutes from a 911 call to the time crews show up to an incident. He said the Badger Sheet Metal site was "pretty close" to where the optimal site would be.

The request sent to developers indicates Metro Fire would need at least six bay doors for engines, ambulances and support vehicles and space for a minimum of seven firefighters on duty. Knott said the department wants to stay flexible on facility design, location on the site and its entrance and exit points as they explore the concept.

Won't fire engines' emergency sirens and lights wake up all the apartment residents?

Probably not. Green Bay Metro Fire's current stations already are located in residential neighborhoods, including the current Station 3, to maintain quick response times.

Knott added that fire engines and ambulances use sirens and lights based on factors like the time of day, volume of activity and severity of the service request. Should the collaboration with a developer progress, Knott said the department would meet with nearby residents to discuss its facility needs and inform residents about emergency responses. For example, he said fire vehicles don't run the sirens and lights if they go out on a non-emergency call and don't turn on the siren the moment they pull out of the station house.

"It's important to our community that we strive to be good neighbors. We're part of the community. We understand that at 3 in the morning you don't want to hear sirens and air horns," Knott said. "We can respond accordingly."

Brian Johnson, City Council member for the area and ad hoc Facilities Committee chair, said public discussions and education will help show the community the mix of uses has worked elsewhere.

"It's not a new thing, but it is new to us," Johnson said.

The former Badger Sheet Metal site in the 400 block of South Broadway. The city of Green Bay is gauging developers interest in combining housing with a new Green Bay Metro fire station on the site.
The former Badger Sheet Metal site in the 400 block of South Broadway. The city of Green Bay is gauging developers interest in combining housing with a new Green Bay Metro fire station on the site.

Green Bay and developers could find mutual relief from high construction costs

Several area apartment construction projects have stalled in the last 18 months. High interest rates, high labor costs and high material costs have created funding gaps that developers have struggled to fill. Buchanan said one housing developer, Impact Seven, was very interested in a housing development on the Badger Sheet Metal site, but opted not to advance the project due to a financing gap.

The idea behind the shared site is that the city and a developer could share construction costs if the first floor serves as a fire station and the upper floors are privately-developed apartments.

“You get some efficiencies, some economies of scale, that can make this more affordable for everyone,” Johnson said.

Buchanan said specific details like how site ownership would break down and where different uses would be located on the site will not come into focus until the city reviews developer submissions and begins hashing out the finer points of the idea.

An aerial view of the Shipyard redevelopment area includes the Badger Sheet Metal site where the city of Green Bay is exploring combining plans for a new fire station with multifamily housing
An aerial view of the Shipyard redevelopment area includes the Badger Sheet Metal site where the city of Green Bay is exploring combining plans for a new fire station with multifamily housing

The Shipyard area has debt to pay off and the only cure is more property value

Remember that $10 million the city borrowed to pay for public improvements and blight removal in the Shipyard area?

Well, the city created a tax increment financing district, or TIF, covering the Shipyard area to borrow the money and the clock is ticking on repaying that debt. A TIF district lets the city repay the debt using new property tax revenue from the newly-created developments in a district. The city identified two key Shipyard sites for large-value private developments: The riverfront site where Merge Urban Development will construct apartments this year and the Badger Sheet Metal property.

"We have a lot of public investment in the Shipyard site and we want to attract private developers to this area to help cover the public costs," Buchanan said.

Johnson said sharing some construction costs help spur development sooner, thus creating more taxable property value.

"The rest of the project is taxable, it creates activation and puts people down (in the Shipyard area)," Johnson said. "This is all stuff you see in urban cores."

Contact Jeff Bollier at (920) 431-8387 or jbollier@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffBollier.

This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Green Bay could combine new fire station, housing on one site. Here's why