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Friday, December 5, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Neenah developer finds focus revitalizing vacant manufacturing sites


By MaryBeth Matzek
Randy Stadtmueller has a knack for taking former industrial sites and giving them new life.

The Neenah-based developer already has taken several vacant manufacturing buildings and found new uses and life for them. For example, he led the conversion of Kimberly Clark Corp.'s vacant Atlas Mill along the Fox River in Appleton into a home for a museum celebrating the region's rich paper history as well as space for a restaurant and office tenants. Further north along the river, his company, Stadtmueller & Associates, worked with the city on clearing the former Riverside Paper mill site and created Eagle Flats, a mixed-use development featuring affordable and senior housing apartments.

"When it comes to these types of projects – turning vacant sites into something new – we know how to get it done," he says. "We understand what needs to be done and how to go about securing the funds through TIF districts, housing grants or historic preservation grants. Some people shy away thinking it's just too much, but it's really not. It just takes time and patience since these projects can take years to come together, but it's worth it."

The company is now working on two other projects along the Fox River – one in Kaukauna and one in Kimberly – that also happen to be former paper mill sites. In Kaukauna, Stadtmueller worked with the city on a plan to move and expand its library into the historic Eagle Mill, which once housed the city's first paper mill. In addition, he worked with Expera Specialty Solutions – the owner of the neighboring paper mill -- to move its headquarters into the renovated building.

In Kimberly, Stadtmueller is taking the former New Page and converting that into a mixed-use development called The Cedars. The 98-acre site will feature a variety of housing options, commercial buildings and offer public access to the Fox River.

"These projects add value to the community and takes advantage of that renewed interest in new urbanism and walkability," he says. "People want to be able to walk places and also take in nature around them, which is one reason we're looking to connect The Cedars to nearby Sunset Park in Kimberly."

Stadtmueller recognizes it can take years for the projects to come together. "Patience is key with all of these projects, but the reward – taking what was an unused site and turning it into something that adds value to the community – is worth it," he said.

The company's projects usually spur other nearby developments, says Renee Torzala, the company's director of communications and marketing.

"Our projects are just the start. Our hope is that these projects help generate other nearby development," she says. "In Kaukauna, there's hope that a hotel and a senior housing complex will now be built nearby since we've revitalized the area while we've already seen some other developments going in around what we've done in Appleton."

Getting the projects done require lots of teamwork. Stadtmueller and Torzala develop close relationships with local officials and then work with them to secure funding – including state and federal grants – to help get the projects done.

"Listening to the community and what they want is also important," Stadtmueller says. "We always hold listening sessions and ask people what their ideas are. That's a key way to get community support behind a project."

That's what they're doing now in New Holstein. The small Calumet County city is looking at plans for what to do with a 40-acre manufacturing site vacated by Tecumseh. Stadtmueller and Torzala have held several community meetings and come away with several ideas that continue to be refined.

"This isn't top-down development, it's bottom-up," Torzala says. "We really listen to what people are interested in and build off their ideas on how best to use an important piece of property in their community."

Optimistic manufacturers

The NEW Manufacturing Alliance, which covers 18 counties in northeast Wisconsin, released its fifth annual Manufacturing Vitality Index on Wednesday and companies are definitely bullish about the future with 86 percent predicting higher sales in 2015.

Ann Franz, director of the NEW Manufacturing Alliance, says 53 percent of the manufacturers surveyed plan on hiring more workers in 2015. Manufacturers provide about 23 percent of all jobs in Northeast Wisconsin, making the industry a major player in the region's economy.

Besides adding new workers, 30 percent plan on plant expansions and 66 percent plan on buying new equipment during the next 12 months.

Click here to read the whole report

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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