Green Bay RDA approves amended hotel room tax plan to fund expo hall

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- Green Bay’s RDA received a round of applause Tuesday afternoon after unanimously voting to help fund a new Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena.

After nixing the idea last month, the RDA has agreed to put Green Bay’s excess room tax toward a new arena.

It’s been a long road for county officials, who first brought up the funding plan for a new expo center back in May when Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach proposed bringing back a half-percent sales tax.

Streckenbach said the 6-year, half-percent sales tax would generate about $147 million to pay for capital improvement projects like roads and jail overcrowding.

A small portion of that money would fund a new expo hall, but the majority of the $93 million project would be funded through excess room tax generated by 7 different area municipalities: Allouez, Ashwaubenon, Bellevue, De Pere, Green Bay, Howard and Suamico.

The Brown County Board of Supervisors signed onto the funding plan immediately, as did other municipalities, but Green Bay put up a road block because it worried it would get the short end of the deal. That’s when county leaders and city officials came up with an amendment, which says when the exposition hall is paid off, any additional room tax money raised will go back to the municipalities involved.

Green Bay City Council members approved that amended proposal, 10 to 2, in June and asked the Redevelopment Authority to do the same. However, that didn’t happen. The RDA voted against it in July, raising concerns over how a new expo hall would compete with the KI Convention Center.

To talk it over, the RDA hosted a special meeting on Tuesday.
Streckenbach and Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt attended the meeting and talked to the RDA together, telling them that after multiple meetings, they have come to an agreement that will fund the new expo hall, while keeping the KI Convention Center in mind.

One of the amendments reads: County agrees to establish hand fund (from sources other than room taxes) a new $500,000 reserve account which can be used to make debt service payments on the bonds which financed the 2013 KI Convention Center expansion (KI Expansion bonds) if available room tax revenues are insufficient.

“I am pledging my support as the Brown County Executive to Mayor Schmitt and Green Bay in their future efforts to keep the KI Convention Center and Downtown Green Bay as a main tourist attraction,” said Streckenbach. “I look forward to working with mayor and future efforts to keep KI Center and downtown Green Bay up to date and success in attracting events to our downtown area.”

“The fact that the KI Convention Center and the downtown are priorities for the county, as well as the new expo hall, I think we wanted to hear that,” said Schmitt. “We have a good feeling this can work.”

Vice-Chair of the RDA, Gary Delveaux, voted ‘no’ the first time around, but after getting new information and seeing the collaborative effort Tuesday afternoon, he changed his mind.

“This time it was very refreshing to see the mayor and county executive working together and talking about the agreement together,” said Delveaux. “That was very important to our community and county to see that cooperation.”

Now that the RDA has approved the proposal, it heads back to the desk of Green Bay City Counil Members for one final vote.

"I don't see any problem with that," said Alderperson Barbara Dorff, Green Bay. "We voted 10 to 2 last time, so I feel good that our vote will go through."

If it passes, the proposal heads over to the Brown County Board of Supervisors who will approve the entire package, which includes the excess room tax proposal and half-percent sales tax. That is expected to be approved mid-August.

The 72-month half-percent sales tax will take effect January 1, 2018.