Few would bet big on a team with a 4-6 record and four-game losing streak, but the wily Green Bay Packers ended up getting one step away from the Super Bowl despite a lackluster start to the 2016 season.
The Packers’ unlikely comeback isn’t the only welcome development emanating from the smallest city in the NFL and the only publicly owned team in major pro sports. Emerging from 34 acres of tundra by Lambeau Field is the $130 million Titletown District that promises to give travelers reasons other than football to visit Green Bay, Wis.
Work is well underway on Titletown, which is technically in the Green Bay suburb of Ashwaubenon. Plans for the project, first announced in 2015, call for a large park with year-round programming, an upscale hotel, a big brewery, and other retail and residential components. The goal is to have much of the initial phase up and running this summer.
We Cheeseheads already get a little misty-eyed at the sight of Lambeau any time of year; everyone from wedding parties to prom courts shows up for photos. Allegiance takes root early. At the Children’s Museum of Green Bay, for example, kids can put on football attire, pretend to tailgate and practice their celebratory “Lambeau Leap.”
The team’s creation in 1998 of the Packers Fan Hall of Fame — a first for a pro football team — suggests the feeling of affection is mutual.
The Packers plan to invest some $65 million in Titletown, located immediately west of Lambeau.
The project “reflects the team’s ongoing commitment to the local community,” NFL spokesman Kamran Mumtaz said in an email. “The impact of the Green Bay Packers extends well beyond the game.”
Other teams have created ways to engage fans near their stadium or training facility, but most unusual is the Packers’ decision to develop 8 to 10 acres as a public park. That’s room enough for ice skating on a looped trail and a rink spacious enough to play hockey, plus snow tubing on a manmade, 45-foot-tall, four-lane slope, complete with equipment rentals and a warmup area.
When the tundra isn’t so frozen, the area will morph into a site for festivals and other public events, with enough artificial turf to play regulation football. Add a playground, public art and room for everything from bean-bag tossing and bocce ball to pingpong.
Slated to open in July is Lodge Kohler, part of the plumbing and manufacturing giant’s hospitality division. Kohler Co.'s portfolio includes Wisconsin’s five-star American Club hotel and Kohler Waters Spa with an outpost in southwest suburban Burr Ridge.
The Titletown property will introduce the area to “a top-notch hotel option,” Kohler spokesperson Leslie Stachowiak said. The overall design is “rugged yet refined,” with warm shades of wood, neutral colors and hints of bronze.
This illustration shows plans for the emerging Titletown District, taking shape near Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.(Green Bay Packers)
Overnight rates start at $195 at the hotel, made up of 134 guest rooms and 10 suites. Terrace-level accommodations will include a private grill for tailgating, and all of the rooms will be equipped with proprietary Kohler shower systems.
Windows of the hotel’s fifth-floor restaurant, a panoramic bar and terrace will face Lambeau. A cafe at ground level will open to the public park. There will be an indoor-outdoor pool and a six-treatment-room spa, offering hydrotherapy experiences, along with massages and other services.
Reservations are already being accepted at the hotel (www.lodgekohler.com), where inventory is expected to be in especially high demand on game days and during special events. Kohler is creating Club LK, whose limited membership will have first dibs on hotel reservations during peak times. Final details — along with annual membership cost — will be announced this spring.
Another Titletown anchor is Hinterland, which is swapping its brewery, bar and restaurant in downtown Green Bay for much larger digs when it opens its new location in April.
Quadrupling in size to 25,000 square feet, Hinterland (www.hinterlandbeer.com) is expected to boost its production by 60 percent. Customers will find a dozen of its beers on tap along with another 12 “guest beer” drafts, as well as lunch and dinner menus.
Chefs at Hinterland, which also has a Milwaukee location, are known for their upscale pub grub. Think pork and foie gras pot stickers, goat curds with kimchi ketchup, and grilled quail, all of which will be served on the mezzanine level.
Brewery founder Bill Tressler refers to the ground level as the “beer hall,” specializing in wood-fired cooking with a trio of ovens for pizza, rotisseries and other entrees.
Tressler is a lifelong Packers fan who began brewing beer in an old cheese factory with his wife in 1995. His Packerland Pilsner, introduced two decades ago after the green and gold won the Super Bowl, was pushed to the sidelines for many years, so Tressler could produce a wider variety of brews. The recipe was tweaked and reintroduced in 2014. Today, it’s one of his two best-sellers, along with Luna Coffee Stout.
“We’ve boot-strapped our way for a long time and are so thankful to be a part of this project,” Tressler said about his new Titletown address. “It’s taking what we’ve done and putting it on steroids.”
Bellin Health’s sports medicine clinic is headed to Titletown too. Specializing in orthopedics, the clinic is scheduled to open in July with an 80-person staff that includes two Packers team doctors.
Unannounced, at this point, are what additional new businesses will border Titletown’s park. Packers representatives plan to introduce phase 2 of the project to Ashwaubenon village officials in a couple of months.
Not all of the area’s recent development action is devoted to Titletown. In downtown Green Bay, a $44 million overhaul of the 1924 Hotel Northland is underway, money is being raised for a $20 million expansion of the National Railroad Museum, and there’s talk of adding a sandy beachfront and more rides to Bay Beach Amusement Park.
Mary Bergin is a freelance writer.