Fox River Mall honored for anchoring Fox Valley tourism

The Fox River Mall in Grand Chute
The Fox River Mall in Grand Chute

APPLETON - The Fox River Mall in Grand Chute is one of the most widely recognized features of the Fox Cities.

Friday, the 30-year-old mall was recognized for its impact.

But it wasn't always welcomed in the community.

What was once an empty farm field before 1984 is now a destination.

"Sixteen million visitors a year into our market," said Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Pam Seidl.

All coming to the Fox Valley to shop at the Fox River Mall. The mall was honored Friday morning as a key economic driver for the region at the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau annual breakfast.

"You always have that one big hook, that one thing that people recognize and that pulls them in and after you pull them in you spread them out to all your other attractions and that has been the key with the mall," said Seidl.

But before the mall ever took shape, the city of Appleton fought it coming to the Fox Valley. But city leaders say at the time, there were good reasons.

"Downtown Appleton was a magical place, you would come down and do your Christmas shopping, the displays in the windows, the lights downtown and you would go from store to store. People came from all over the region to do their shopping and to have that threatened by this major development, that was a big deal," said Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna.

John Bergstrom was one of the men responsible for bringing the mall to Grand Chute. And he says there was a time when the project was in jeopardy.

"It lasted years, there were many court challenges, appeals and ultimately came down to a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision," said John Bergstrom, Senior Vice President for General Growth Properties, which owns the mall.

But 30 years later, the mall is thriving and Mayor Hanna says, so is Appleton.

"At the foundation of the local economy is a strong downtown with your cultural and entertainment base and your strong retail base out at the mall."

A thriving mall and downtown that will keep visitors and their tourism dollars coming back to Appleton and the entire Fox Valley.

Fox River Mall management says it will continue to improve the experience for shoppers.

And officials say that means listening to what people want.