By Roger Utnehmer
An Occasional Attempt To
Restore Civility to Our Civic Discourse
President and CEO
April 27, 2017
Sturgeon Bay’s Missing Ingredient in Successful Waterfront Development
If ever a community seemed evenly split, it’s Sturgeon Bay over the proposed west side waterfront development. Yet, it’s not too late to learn how to bring unity to a divided community.
The City of Eau Claire provides a positive example of how to balance development with community concerns. Eau Claire today has a vibrant riverfront. A former brownfield site is now the location a development that has added more than $50 million to the city tax base.
The lesson from Eau Claire that could bring Sturgeon Bay together is the process by which elected officials and the developer communicated. And it’s not too late for Sturgeon Bay. Regardless of the outcome of litigation and the determination of the appropriate location of a hotel, much is to be decided about the Sturgeon Bay west side waterfront.
Eau Claire did it right and Sturgeon Bay can as well. Eau Claire elected officials provided the leadership that earned the consent of the governed. When the major developer, Royal Credit Union, heard objections to the location of their proposed headquarters on the riverfront they moved it back from the water. A credit union spokesman said, “A happy community is good for business.”
More than 57 public meetings with the developer and city officials were held. Questions were answered, consensus was built and the public was educated. It was a long process that paid off in public support.
The result in Eau Claire is a beautiful riverfront and thriving development. More importantly, the community is at peace with the project and proud of its success. No matter what happens to the hotel project in Sturgeon Bay, it’s important for the public to be at peace when the disputes are over.
The one person in a position to bring peace to the proposed hotel project in Sturgeon Bay is developer Bob Papke. Unlike officials from Royal Credit Union in Eau Claire, Papke has taken a very low profile and has let others do the talking for him. His low profile and absence from public meetings have made him the missing man in a process that needs his participation.
Eau Claire’s success stems in part from the willingness of their major developer to listen, answer questions and modify plans to earn the consent of the community. Bob Papke is certainly wise enough to handle himself in the face of questions and opposing viewpoints. By being brave and bold he can lead Sturgeon Bay in a process that can bring peace and unity to a divided community.
Sturgeon Bay may not need 57 meetings to accomplish what Eau Claire has done but it certainly is worth a few more with Bob Papke in attendance to someday share their successful outcome.
That’s my opinion. I’d like to hear yours.
Additional information about the Eau Claire successful riverfront development is available at