ASHWAUBENON — If Brad Toll and Ken Wachter get their way, the WIAA will have an easy decision to make in a few years.
Toll, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Green Bay & the Lakeshore Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Wachter, who has the same title but with PMI Entertainment Group, are two of the leading players in the saga that over the past five months has pitted the state's oldest community against its most political, caused debate and resulted in harsh criticism of the WIAA, UW-Madison Athletic Department and Madison city leaders.
Toll and Wachter will be promoting, selling tickets and trying to create an environment at the corner of Lombardi Avenue and Oneida Street that will make moving the girls tournament back to Madison almost impossible.
"I don't think any of us are accepting this as a two-year deal," said Lawry Larson, general manger of the Hampton Inn and president of the Greater Green Bay Lodging Association. "This is a great opportunity."
Toll and Wachter know they can't replicate State Street, 42,000 UW-Madison students or the State Capitol. Instead they'll be using their strong marketing backgrounds to create a unique scene in and around the 9,200-seat Resch Center and getting visitors to check out the region's restaurants, museums, natural areas and even a Catholic shrine in nearby Champion.
Toll spent eight years with the St. Paul, Minn., Convention and Visitors Bureau before coming to Green Bay in 2006. Wachter spent years marketing the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and later the Anaheim Ducks and Angels. He's been in Green Bay since 1998.
His company, PMI, manages the Resch Center and three other venues. The company produced the Kenny Chesney concert at Lambeau Field last June. It also owns the city's United States Hockey League team, the Green Bay Gamblers. It also, since 2002, has hosted the WIAA girls state volleyball tournament at the Resch Center where attendance has increased over its previous sites in Neenah and Oshkosh.
"We think we're pretty good at putting on events," Wachter said. "Our hope is to do such a good job that they'll say this is a perfect venue. We know the attraction of Madison and the history and the Kohl Center, but we think our market and facility are a great fit."
The Resch Center opened in 2002 and is a top-notch, size-appropriate facility for the girls basketball tournament, which has been drawing about 40,000 fans over three days in five divisions.
The WIAA announced last week that the boys state basketball tournament would remain at the Kohl Center in Madison at least through 2020. The girls tournament, however, would move to the Resch Center for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, followed by the WIAA re-evaluating the tournament's location.
There are no known conflicts at the much larger Kohl Center after the 2014 season for girls basketball, but Toll and Wachter believe that with almost 700,000 people in the Fox Valley compared to 568,000 in the Madison area, they can increase attendance. They also believe they can make coaches, players and fans happy with the setting and provide the Green Bay area with a chance at filling more than 4,300 hotel rooms and giving the region a $3 million economic shot in the arm each March.
"The sports market works very, very well filling those rooms," Toll said. "That's why the WIAA is just perfect."
Of course, the star of the sports scene here is the Packers. The team is in the midst of another expansion that adds seats to the south end zone and a massive scoreboard to the north end and has been buying up land around the stadium for a major retail and entertainment district along Lombardi Avenue from the stadium to Highway 41.
A long-term vision by the Packers, according to Toll, would be abandoning the Don Hutson Center practice facility and building a new practice facility in the parking lot on the east side of the stadium. That would free up the Hutson Center and its massive indoor Field Turf surface and two outdoor fields for more youth sporting events.
"This could be a Midwest youth sports mecca," Toll said. "It would be a major market for us."
Toll and Wachter also have the backing from their neighbors across the street at Lambeau Field and a community that is embracing a wide swath of youth, amateur and professional sports.
One plan being studied would replace the Brown County Arena and adjacent Shopko Hall with a 100,000-square-foot exhibition hall for trade shows and sporting events. A 12-field soccer complex is being planned near the city's southeast side. Near the southwest side, the Cornerstone Community Ice Center, built in 2000, has three ice sheets. It attracts youth hockey events, last month hosted the U.S. Speed Skating Short Track National Championships and, in 2013, will host the USA Curling National Championships.
The girls state basketball tournament, however, will be one of the biggest events of the year and provide another way to show off the city.
"Most people have been here, but they haven't been here long enough to experience the amenities," Larson said. "They'll learn to experience everything we have to offer."
Barry Adams covers regional news for the State Journal. Send him ideas for On Wisconsin at 608-252-6148 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.