Ask virtually anyone from across in the country what they think of when they hear “Green Bay, Wisc.,” and it’s safe to assume that “the Packers” NFL team will top the list. Yet as central as the four-time Super Bowl champions may be to the identity of this port city of more than 107,000, there is so much more to Green Bay, and downtown organization On Broadway has been leading a revival of the city’s downtown for nearly two decades.
Starting on June 25, On Broadway will present the Levitt AMP Green Bay Music Series along the waterfront at Leicht Memorial Park in partnership with How To Concerts, drawing even more eyes to its downtown district.
“We are known for this little football team we have, and that definitely draws a lot of people here,” says Allie Thut, On Broadway’s Director of Special Events. “We’re only three miles from Lambeau Field, but our downtown is truly a hidden gem, and we want more people to experience everything that we have to offer.”
Founded nearly 20 years ago, On Broadway was initially tasked with helping to revitalize the Broadway district in Green Bay’s downtown, which had fallen into neglect. Since then, the area’s fortunes have changed dramatically. More than 100 local businesses operate in the area, and there is an abundance of public art throughout the district. Plus, On Broadway organizes more than 50 public events every year. Of these, the biggest are the annual Fourth of July fireworks display, and the Wednesday farmer’s market, which On Broadway Director of Marketing Brooke Hafs says attracts 10,000 to 15,000 people to downtown every week for 19 straight weeks.
That number may soon grow, as the organization recently purchased a property it plans to redevelop into a permanent public market. A $12 million dollar project, the Green Bay Public Market will be located a mere two blocks from the Levitt AMP concert site, and Hafs hopes the two locations “will play off of each other” and further establish the area as a key community destination. “There’s going to be a lot of cross promotion there,” she says. “We expect the public market to draw a million visitors annually, so we’re definitely going to capitalize on that.”
While Green Bay’s downtown has been growing and thriving, Leicht Memorial Park is still mostly underused and thus was a prime location to host the Levitt AMP Music Series. Located on the banks of the Fox River, the park is scenically situated and easily walkable from downtown business districts, yet, according to Thut, “right now it’s basically just a slab of grass on a great river.” Activating waterfront public spaces has long been a struggle in Green Bay, where so much of the riverbanks are occupied by commercial and industrial facilities, and On Broadway has some big ideas to turn Leicht Park into a vibrant, fully-activated community destination, with the three-year Levitt AMP concert series a cornerstone of those plans.
On Broadway is no stranger to the Levitt AMP program, having received a grant to produce a concert series in summer of 2019. Though neither Hafs nor Thut were with On Broadway during its previous Levitt AMP season, they noted lessons learned from the 2019 series that are informing the series this time around. To start, On Broadway is moving the concerts from Tuesdays to Sundays as a way to engage more members of the community. In addition, the nonprofit has been busy building partnerships to ensure that the many neighborhoods that call Green Bay home feel welcome and invited to come out.
Says Hafs: “We recognize the value in creating community partnerships and connecting those partnerships throughout the community to help us reach people that maybe we didn’t reach last time around.”
On Broadway is already off to a great start in this department. Assembling a 13-person committee of local leaders with connections to different demographics in the city, the nonprofit has been listening to community members to determine everything from themed nights to talent booking. The opening night concert will be presented in partnership with local nonprofits in honor of World Refugee Day, and local bands are being recruited as opening acts throughout the series. Green Bay high schools have been engaged, and a high school marching band is scheduled to perform later in the season. The City of Green Bay is donating use of its staging equipment for the first year, with talks underway to construct a permanent stage and pavilion for upcoming seasons. And On Broadway has already minted agreements with a local TV station, two local radio stations, and a local newspaper to offer in-kind support and publicity.
“We are taking a deeper dive into the demographics of our region and trying to tailor the series to those demographics,” Hafs says. “For example, we have a large Hispanic population in our residential area surrounding the district, so we’ve booked Latino bands. We have [Hispanic resource center] Casa ALBA helping get the word out, and a partnership with a Spanish-language radio station.” She noted that they also have a large Hmong population, and a large Native American population, and that they are currently identifying partners to reach those demographics. She added, “We’re also thinking about different sexualities, different ages, different earnings backgrounds. We want to make sure there are accessible food options, so no one feels limited. Just trying to break down all those barriers for the different types of people who could be interested in free music.”
Just as important to Hafs and Thut is leveraging the Levitt AMP Music Series to expose audiences to new types of music, and making sure that the community turns out for concerts week-in and week-out, turning the music series into an indelible summer tradition.
“Our organization has really been pushing the envelope on the types of entertainment that is available in this area,” Hafs says. “Historically, Green Bay has generally liked cover bands and country music, but through some of our events we’ve been opening the eyes of the community, encouraging people to try something new and enjoy a part of the city they haven’t experienced before.”
The Levitt AMP Green Bay Music Series will run every Sunday evening from June 25-Aug. 27. Stay tuned for the artist lineup!