PORT PLAZA
Main and North Washington Streets
Green Bay, Wisconsin

Green Bay, Wisconsin was one of the first US metropolitan areas to enlist the talents of master mid-century architect Victor Gruen. He and his Los Angeles-based company, Victor Gruen Associates, devised a downtown redevelopment plan for Green Bay in 1956. A slightly amended plan was approved in 1960 with the expressed aim of "returning downtown Green Bay to the regional shopping hub of northeast Wisconsin."

To achieve this goal, 7.8 million dollars in Federal funds were secured, property was acquired and businesses relocated. Demolition of a seven-city-block section of the city commenced in March 1967. By 1972, the entire 5 acre parcel had been cleared.

The site sat vacant for 3 years while tenants were signed for a prospective shopping mall. J.C. Penney, an original participant, pulled out of the project in 1971...only to come back on board in 1974. Meanwhile, Northfield, Illinois-based Development Control was enlisted to oversee construction, which got underway in 1975.

On August 10, 1977, a gala grand opening was held for Green Bay's new 24 million dollar PORT PLAZA, with Mike Monfils, Mayor of Green Bay, officiating. An initial fifty stores opened for business.

Encompassing 460,000 leasable square feet and over one hundred store spaces, the 2-level, fully-enclosed retail complex was anchored by a 2-level (160,000 square foot) J.C. Penney. A 4-level (260,000 square foot), Sheboygan-based H.C. Prange (dating from the 1890s) was an across-the-street shadow anchor.

Inline stores included Thom McAn Shoes, Osco Drug, Things Remembered, Carousel Snack Bar, Tiffany Bakeries, Swiss Colony, Karmelkorn, Kay-Bee Toys, Flowerama, Stone Jewelry, Sons of Britches, Waldenbooks, Galaxy of Sound and Orange Julius.

Suburban shopping malls soon came on the scene. BAY PARK SQUARE {3.2 miles southwest, in Ashwaubenon} was dedicated in 1980. EAST TOWN MALL {2.8 miles southeast, in Green Bay} welcomed its first shoppers in 1982.

The only physical expansion even built at PORT PLAZA got underway in 1980. The 3 million dollar project was to add 49,700 square feet of new store space. A Food Court would stretch over North Washington Street and connect the mall with the existing Prange's department store. Moreover, a third anchor, a 2-level (110,000 square foot), Milwaukee-based Boston Store, would be built onto the southwest corner of the complex.

This store was dedicated August 4, 1982. With its completion, PORT PLAZA (including the Prange's structure) enveloped approximately 879,700 leasable square feet and contained one hundred and twenty stores and services. The mall was given an interior face lift in 1986-1987, with neon lighting installed throughout.

An anchor rebranding took place October 29, 1992, when Des Moines-based Younkers ["yunk-erz"] took over the twenty-five store Prange's chain. By this time, PORT PLAZA was beginning to decline due to competition from its suburban counterparts.

The inner city shopping hub changed hands in 1986, 1997 and 2001. The new owner, Green Bay-based Development Associates, renovated the shopping center and renamed it WASHINGTON COMMONS.

The Boston Store had been shuttered in March of 2000 and was never retenanted. The newly-named mall was in decline from the start and nothing could stop its downward spiral. Inline stores closed. Younkers went dark on July 25, 2004, with Penney's shutting its doors on October 1, 2005.

In a preliminary downtown re-redevelopment move, the vacant Prange's / Younkers at WASHINGTON COMMONS was demolished in 2007. The section of the mall built over North Washington Street in the early 1980s was also razed.

The final six tenants at WASHINGTON COMMONS closed on February 27, 2006. The vacant shopping mall was foreclosed on the following April.

The City of Green Bay acquired the property and transferred ownership to the local redevelopment authority. In June 2011 a plan was announced, whereby Green Bay-based Schreiber Foods would build a 5-story World Headquarters & Global Technology Center on the mall site, relocating from a smaller structure on its southwest corner.

Recyclable materials were removed from the shuttered shopping center, with demolition commencing in early 2012. By April of the year, all that remained were the Boston Store building, J.C. Penney building and two parking garages. Eventually, the old Penney's store was demolished.

Construction of the Schreiber Foods complex began in June 2012, with the facility being officially dedicated September 15, 2014.

Sources:

http://www.labelscar.com
"Washington Commons" article on Wikipedia
http://www.ci.green-bay.wi.us
http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com


FAIR USE OF PORT PLAZA IMAGES:

The graphics from The Green Bay News-Chronicle illustrate a key moment in the mall's history that is described in the article. The imagea are of lower resolution than the original (copies made would be of inferior quality). The images are not replaceable with free-use or public-domain images. The use of the images does not limit the copyright owners' rights to distribute the images in any way. The images are being used for non-profit, informational purposes only and their use is not believed to detract from the original images in any way.