Development Entrepreneurship

Altoona Thinks ‘Inside the Box’ for Container Park

nine entrepreneurs will compete for space inside a unique new Altoona development

Tom Giffey |

NEW IDEAS INSIDE. An artist's conception of the
NEW IDEAS INSIDE. An artist's conception of the "container park" that will be created soon in downtown Altoona. (Submitted image)

A railroad-themed pub? A vintage clothing store? A fishing tackle shop? A ramen bar? These ideas and more are in the mix for a unique city-owned commercial development in downtown Altoona.

A dozen local entrepreneurs submitted ideas to the City of Altoona in February as part of the Inside the Box Challenge, and now the number of applicants has been winnowed to nine.

Five winners will be chosen April 18 at a Shark Tank-style event after making presentations at Altoona City Hall to a panel that will include Altoona City Council members as well as bankers, entrepreneurs, and other business experts, said Mike Golat, Altoona’s city administrator.

The winning concepts will be offered affordable leases to open their businesses in a soon-to-be-built container park on Division Street in downtown Altoona. The development, created out of repurposed shipping containers, will be built on formerly blighted downtown property with the help of a $1.38 million Neighborhood Investment Grant Program from the state of Wisconsin, which is funded by federal pandemic recovery dollars.

“I’ve been encouraged by the response from the businesses,” Golat said of the number of applications. “A major goal of the project was to remove barriers for entrepreneurs.”

While similar projects have taken shape elsewhere in Wisconsin, he said, they are privately owned, not city operated. In addition to roughly half a dozen containers that will provide space for the businesses, the development will include a stage and a seating area where people can gather for events or dine.

The overall goal of the project is to enliven downtown Altoona with a variety of small businesses – including restaurants, retailers, and a taproom – that will attract patrons and visitors.

“We want this to be an active base where people like to hang out, and that’ll be the measure of success: how activated it is,” Golat explained.

The remaining contenders for the Inside the Box Challenge include:

  • A railroad-themed pub, possibly called the Black Horse Saloon or the Roundhouse Pub, proposed by Mark Anderson, who owns Altoona’s Golden Spike Bar & Grill, which is roughly across the street.
  • Grizzly’s Tackle, a fishing tackle and Packer memorabilia shop, proposed by Dale “Grizzly” Gleffe.
  • Coulee Boutique, a women’s clothing, shoes, accessories, and gift store, operated by Anna Ledebuhr. The boutique already has a location in Galesville.
  • Novel Teas, a literary-themed tea room that would sell loose-leaf tea, proposed by Nancy Schlieve, Julie Harris, and Cheri Donnelley.
  • Geek Chic, a vintage and collectible pop culture shop, proposed by Dawn Wells. She and her husband currently have booths in two local resale shops.
  • Beast & Bonito, a ramen bar also serving rice bowls, seasonal small plates, and appetizers, proposed by Evan Munger Mowry. The initial goal would be to have the eatery open for dinner, with the possible addition of lunchtime hours later.
  • Big Fella’s, a restaurant selling pizza by the slice or the pie, proposed by John and Lisa Newcomb, both of whom have experience at a variety of restaurants.
  • Ne-Ne’s Tacos, a Mexican restaurant proposed by Rene and Rhoda Perez, who have operated a food truck of the same name in the Chippewa Valley for several years.
  • An unnamed, Asian-inspired seafood boil restaurant proposed by Xoua Yang and Xavier Yang (who owned Eau Juicy, a former Eau Claire eatery).

Three other applicants – a cocktail bar, a vegan cafe, and a car service – either withdrew their applications or were previously eliminated from contention.

Ideally, Golat said, the container park will include two restaurants, two retailers, and a taproom, but that mix could change depending on who is selected.

The city’s goal is to complete the development by this fall. However, Golat added, it is more likely it won’t be completed until the spring of 2024.