Excitement was in the air June 6, 1977, when Bill Maddux, president of a Minneapolis-based property development company, announced at a press conference that a shopping mall was coming to Marinette. Sixteen months later — Oct. 25, 1978 — a beaming community celebrated the grand opening.
Maddux was head of Foursquare Properties. He said his company was planning to construct a 286,000-square-foot regional shopping center to be called “Pine Tree Mall.” The mall was to be located on Roosevelt and Woleske roads near U.S. 41 at the south city limits of Marinette.
Little did public officials and local folks realize then that the construction of a mall would be the springboard to a bustling commercial region that would include additional retail stores, fast food outlets, grocery stores, gasoline stations, banks and a roster of other diversified businesses. Even a medical facility became a part of the neighborhood.
The shopping center concept was sweeping the county. The historic downtown districts that were so famous when a maturing nation was developing were struggling and fresh ideas were unfolding in all corners of the democracy. Entrepreneurs were turning to the edges of municipalities and staking substantial investments in what they perceived to be business opportunities.
Area citizens will recall the undeveloped woodland and swampland that covered the territory where the proposed shopping center was going to be built. Several farms were located in the vicinity.
Maddux was a man of vision and spark. He envisioned potential development for the uncultivated location where others pictured it simply as a part of the “rural area.”
Three department stores were to be included in the first phase. Space for expansion was built into the plan. Thirty-five stores were to be a part of the project. There was parking for 1,869 cars.
Maddux made his commitment to the city in June 1977, but his first visit here was made on Valentine’s Day of the same year. He started his development plans in December 1976. The initial plans were revised after he visited the site.
As one can imagine, enormous planning and preparations occurred before the heavy earth-moving equipment invaded the scene on a Sunday in late October 1977 to begin the massive project on the 43-acre site. The first phase was pegged at $7.7 million.
Pine Tree was the first shopping center in Wisconsin to be developed with industrial revenue bonds. The project was approved because of the regional nature of the operation and the fact that an estimated 600 jobs would be created.
About 200,000 cubic yards of fill were needed to prepare the site for construction. Another 5,500 cubic yards of concrete and 600 tons of structural steel were used in the commencing phase. Lund-Mortin Co. of Minneapolis was the general contractor. Baker Associates Inc., also a Minneapolis company, designed the mall. Numerous local subcontractors were hired to help complete the project.
JC Penney, Sears Roebuck and H.C. Prange Co. were the three early department stores. Prange Way and Osco Drug were in the first wave. Lauerman Bros. Department Store, the pillar of the downtown district, opened a store in the mall.
Some of the other early retailers or service outlets included Bostwick’s, Hickory Farms, B. Dalton Bookseller, Kinny Shoes, Musicland, Haase Shoes, id Boutique, Coach House Gifts, Zales, Regis, The Circus Arcade, Walker’s Spirit World, Claire’s Boutique, Seifert’s, Kindy Optical, Baskin-Robbins, The Gap, Radio Shack, Things Remembered and Johnny’s Loaf & Stein. There were financial institutions and other specialty shops in the introductory cycle of tenants.
H.C. Prange, a reputable department chain based in Green Bay, had flirted with locating at the M&M Plaza in Menominee in the late 1960s. Prange and the Marinette-Menominee Center, the corporate owner of the Plaza, announced a tentative agreement in October 1969 to construct a store at the Michigan site. Plans called for construction to begin in 1970. The plan, however, fell through.
Menominee officials then turned their attentions to luring Kmart to become a part of the M&M Plaza family.
Retail rivals prepped for the Pine Tree competition by throwing convincing sales. The Marinette Eagle-Star and Menominee Herald-Leader ran splashy advertising days ahead of the grand opening.
Kmart promoted luggage specials from $7.97 to $24.88; Panasonic radios for $19.57 and quilted comforters for $15.97. Kmart’s Auto Service offered $43 tires for $29.88, car batteries for $41.88 and installed mufflers for $17.88.
Tempo Department Store offered a “Price Buster Sale” with 30% off on all children’s outerwear. Hooded sweatshirts sold for $4.96; women’s sweaters for $4.86 and men’s flannel shirts for $3.96. The store sales were widespread throughout the Twin Cities.
The Budweiser air balloon was on hand for the Pine Tree grand opening Oct. 25, 1978. Maddux presided at the 9:15 a.m. starting point as hundreds of shoppers eagerly awaited the unlocking of the largest commercial project in the city’s history. The Marinette High School band played. Local dignitaries heaped praise on Maddux and his partners in the investment.
Mayor Edward Parsek, City Attorney F.H. Jabas, and George Robbins, manager of the Marinette Area Chamber of Commerce, were singled out by Maddux for their leadership in getting the project off the ground and seeing it to its fruition.
The Pine Tree project was a bold undertaking. Its maturation spurred tremendous growth in a good-sized neighborhood. An incalculable number of part-time and full-time jobs have benefited the area labor market since its opening. An inestimable amount of tax money has been generated to help local units of government.
The lineup of retailers at Pine Tree has changed over the past three decades, and so have the faces of workers and shopping trends. More change is on the way.