From retail to restaurants, economic benefit of PAC spurs downtown growth

Nov. 16, 2012

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Anduzzi's and the nearby Radisson Paper Valley Hotel are among the businesses in the vicinity of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. The downtown has gone through a transformation in the 10 years since the PAC opened. / Ron Page/The Post-Crescent


The Koutnik Paint building downtown had been for sale for a good five years, starting in the mid-1990s, with not so much as a nibble.

That changed pretty quickly with the news that the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center would open kitty-corner from the paint/wallpaper/accordion shop.

“It wasn’t until the PAC was announced that anyone was interested,” owner Bill Koutnik said in June 2002. He closed his retail shop at 345 W. College Ave. and today the storefront is a bustling Jimmy John’s.

The PAC perked up other properties in the surrounding blocks over the next few years, and while it was a magnet for growth, it wasn’t a guarantee of survival.

Those who opened nearby in 2002 and are in business today include Speakeasy, Mill Creek and The Bar. Flanagan’s created its restaurant called Wine Review. Good Company and Déjà vu Martini Lounge expanded.

The next year, more opened: Katsu-Ya, Copper Rock Coffee Co. and Starbucks among them. Those businesses also thrive.

On the flip side, a number of places in the blocks surrounding the PAC shut in 2002 and 2003 for various individual business reasons. They include Black & Tan, Casa Mexico, Champagne Charlie’s, Wilber’s Blackened Blues, Vegas Lounge and Big Belly’s.

Joe Kohlbeck, co-owner of The Bar, has put it succinctly for years: “If you had to rely on the Performing Arts Center to make it, you wouldn’t,” he said. “But having it here helps.”

Bigger picture

Downtown saw the PAC as its shot to become a multifaceted, vibrant place that could transcend its previous roles as a young death-march drinking street and an avenue of non-mall-type retail shops.

“I don’t think we’d be where we are without it,” said Jennifer Stephany, executive director of Appleton Downtown Inc. “It has definitely had a positive impact on the quality of restaurants. It elevates our profile. It puts us in the tourism game.”

Plenty of businesses were ready to play.

The CopperLeaf Boutique Hotel opened in January 2004, a little more than a year after the PAC debuted. It became a PAC sponsor, which means it pays $5,000 to $7,000 a year to be listed on the PAC’s preferred accommodations web page and it comps 36 rooms a year to the PAC.

“It’s absolutely worth it. It’s an automatic renewal for us every year,” said Dan Schetter, former general manager of the hotel who now runs Oshkosh Premier Waterfront Hotel under the same management company.

“The relationship is worth 200 to 300 room-nights a year,” he said.

The PAC sends many of its headliners to the hotel, as well as to the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel. The Radisson and the Candlewood Suites also get traveling crews.

The Bar’s Kohlbeck said he and his partners decided to open their bar downtown in 2002 both because of the PAC and the College Avenue street renovation.

“We felt that downtown was going in the right direction and we wanted to be part of that revitalization,” he said.

The challenge became how to survive on the nights when the PAC was dark and not bringing potential customers to the Avenue, he said.

The PAC books 400 events a year, but they’re mostly bunched into a September-to-June time frame, said Tara Brzozowski, PAC director of marketing. Summers are pretty light.

“We would like to see more activity at the PAC,” Kohlbeck said. “More one-night comedians, bands and concerts. Our biggest wish would be to get more events there like REO Speedwagon and Larry the Cable Guy. They draw the people who come for dinner and then stay out for a few drinks afterward.”

On the reverse end, the Broadway musical shows bump up traffic in better restaurants, like Bella Vita.

“We can tell when shows are there. No question,” said Rich Batley, co-owner of the CopperLeaf and attached Bella Vita. “On a Tuesday when we have a show versus a Tuesday when we do not have a show, business is up 25 percent in the restaurant.”

Increasing value

“The addition of the PAC has also impacted property values in the business improvement district, which has in total increased by nearly 43 percent since 2002,” said ADI’s Stephany. She said the 2002 BID district value in 2002 was $86 million and the 2013 value is $123.8 million.

The PAC’s impact on the local economy overall, according to its own internal formula, is estimated at about $14 million in an average year and was bumped to $17.8 million last year because of heavier programming. Those figures include the money traveling tour companies and casts spend. It counts in hospitality jobs and the money the PAC itself spends.

When it comes down to how much individual theater or concert-goers shell out, the amount is estimated to be $19.45 per person above the ticket price, based on the 2012 Arts & Economic Prosperity IV study conducted by Americans for the Arts.

While that might not sound like much — and it did drop during the recession from a previous $22.22 in 2007 — a full house of 2,072 people would still spend more than $40,000 on food, parking, souvenirs and babysitters. If patrons travel in from a distance to see one of the larger shows, they spend significantly more.

“Non-residents spend 95 percent more than local attendees,” said the PAC’s Brzozowski. The Radisson Paper Valley Hotel and CopperLeaf Boutique Hotel reap the primary benefits because of proximity.

“Proximity is a component,” said Stephany. “So is reaching out to work with the PAC when the crews are here.”

She said those businesses that reach out to serve casts and crews do well, from the Appleton Cobbler Shoppe and Angels Forever/Windows of Light, to coffee shops like Acoca and Copper Rock and those who offer spa services, including Indira, Massage Connection and Spa BenMarNico’s.

“The crews are used to being in bigger cities where they pay a lot more,” she said. “They book their massages and services here because here they’re a good deal.”

— Maureen Wallenfang: 920-993-1000, ext. 287, or; on Twitter @wallenfang

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