Prospectus Finalized to Attract NERR Visitor Center

The finishing touches have been put on a plan seeking to bring a visitor center to Sturgeon Bay as part of the process to establish the Green Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR).

The city’s Ad Hoc NERR Advisory Committee met last week to discuss the outreach strategy to attract the visitor center, which includes a 28-page prospectus. Mayor David Ward said that document would be on the city Finance/Purchasing and Building Committee’s agenda May 9 to be recommended for approval by the Common Council during its May 16 meeting.

Ward said the prospectus is a first step for the city to bid on getting the visitor center to locate in Sturgeon Bay and could also be used to attract other research to the area.

“This has everything in it,” he said.

The prospectus touts Sturgeon Bay and Door County as a nationally recognized tourist destination that attracts, on average, 2.5 million visitors annually, and has a caring and generous community, robust educational setting, strong stewardship ethic, community of science and support, and thriving, collaborative arts community.

The six possible sites that the prospectus lists where the visitor center could locate in Sturgeon Bay include four city-owned properties – the West Waterfront, Sunset Park, water frontage near the Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club and the Sawyer Park boat-launch area – and two privately owned parcels at 253 N. 1st Ave. and on the corner of Oregon Street and South 1st Avenue adjacent to Graham Park.

The NERR project timeline calls for the visitor-center selection process to take place over the next two years.

Ad Hoc Committee co-chair Mark Holey said an economic analysis is now being considered as part of that process.

“It sounded like whatever site would provide the biggest economic benefit may get the most points,” he said.

Selection of the visitor-center site is a separate step from designating the natural areas, for which property in the Sturgeon Bay area is part of 11,494 land acres recommended for inclusion in the NERR.

The portion in the Sturgeon Bay area includes fewer than 700 acres located south of the Highway 42/57 corridor on both sides of the shipping channel, with property owned by Crossroads at Big Creek, the Door County Land Trust, the Sturgeon Bay School District and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Sturgeon Bay is one of three areas recommended for the NERR, along with areas in Peshtigo and the Lower Bay of Green Bay.

The Bay of Green Bay region is being established as the 31st NERR in the nation. The 30 reserves already in existence in the United States were established through the Coastal Management Zone Act and are partnerships between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and coastal states.

NOAA provides funding and national guidance for each site, which is managed by a lead state agency or university with input from local partners. For the Bay of Green Bay NERR, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay is leading the designation process.

UW-Green Bay’s director of freshwater strategy, Emily Tyner, said the process to select a visitor-center site is on hold pending final approval of the NERR natural areas boundaries by NOAA.

“Next steps on finding a site for the visitor center are tied up in waiting for a final acceptance of the site-nomination document,” she said. “I hope to have more to share in the next couple of months.”

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