FOX 11 Investigates: Lawmaker creates plan to redevelop Green Bay Correctional Institution

Green Bay Correctional Institution (PHOTO COURTESY: Tim Flanigan/WLUK)

ALLOUEZ (WLUK) -- If you drive along Highway 172 in Allouez, you can't miss the maximum-security prison near the Fox River. But if one state lawmaker get his way, the Green Bay Correctional Institution would be closed and the property redeveloped, and a new prison would be built in its place.

State Rep. David Steffen, R-Howard, sees potential.

"We're talking $80 million worth of economic development possibility," he said.

The Green Bay Correctional Institution, which has been in operation since 1898, is home to 1,094 prisoners. That's well above its designed capacity of 749.

Last fall, Steffen announced a plan to study the prison's future. But a few months later, he found that the state already completed a study on the prison. A 2009 report recommended $142.4 million in upgrades to the prison.

"The state has already done the research on this. It's just a matter of acting upon it," Steffen said.

Steffen says the cost to modernize the facility is too high. That's why he wants to take a different approach.

"In this budget, I am going to be proposing that we decommission that prison and we begin the process of building a new one," Steffen said.

Steffen is still working on the details of the proposal but he says it will include the construction of a new prison in Brown County, or in a neighboring county.

"That way, every one of those 350-plus employees that work at that facility can all feel rest assured that they're still going to have a job if there's a new facility," he said.

FOX 11 Investigates asked the Department of Corrections about the future of the prison.

In a statement, a spokesman said, the department "conducts regular reviews of its existing physical infrastructure to determine current and future needs."

The statement points out that governor's budget proposal "...includes funds to develop a comprehensive long range master plan of DOC facilities and additional funds to renovate the North and South Cell Halls."

Steffen says the $22.2 million in the budget for renovations at the prison could be saved if a new facility is built.

"I don't think it's wise use of money to be injecting that type of dollars," he said.

"There's a lot of unanswered questions at this point," said Allouez village administrator Brad Lange.

Lange says the plan offers a unique opportunity.

"We're looking at, since we are land-locked, is the opportunity for redevelopment. It could be commercial, could be residential, a lot of different things," Lange said.

Steffen says he is working with the state historical society to address any historic preservation issues since some of the buildings are listed on the national and state register of historic places.

Steffen says the process of closing one prison and opening another could take four or five years. But he says there's no better time to get started.

"The time is now. The time is right to move it," Steffen said. "We have interest in the property. We have opportunities to develop it. So it's time to move forward."

Steffen says he expects to release more details about the proposal within the next month.

He will also be working with the state's budget committee to get the plan included in this year's budget.

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