Our downtown has become
a destination for out-of-town visitors as well as a welcome place for residents, especially those who work there every day.
– Sara Grover, Port Washington Main Street
Port Washington boasts a proud legacy as a fishing capital, but when iconic Smith Bros. Fish Market closed in 2006, a large downtown building became vacant. The downtown’s other large property was also vacant, and retail turnover increased when the recession began. Community leaders took action to ensure the downtown remained a thriving city center.
The city applied for and secured Wisconsin Main Street status in 2008. This status, along with the work of community leaders and collaboration from local businesses, led to the successful revitalization of Port Washington’s downtown. Area employer Franklin Energy moved downtown in 2011, and rugged work clothes manufacturer Duluth Trading Co. moved into the former fish market in 2012. These two businesses added nearly 90 employees to the downtown. Duluth Trading has reported strong sales, and other downtown shops have noted increased foot traffic.
After a historic paper mill in downtown Neenah closed in 2006, the 16-acre site was in danger of becoming an eyesore that lowered property values and hindered economic development. The city acquired the property to convert it to a mixed-use commercial and retail center with public green space and waterfront access. Company officials at Plexus Corporation, one of the city’s largest employers, made an early commitment to move the corporation’s headquarters to the site, which helped the project move forward. The project included demolishing the building, remediating the site, constructing Plexus Corporation’s headquarters, creating a park and river walk, and building a public plaza.
The city received a $700,000 brownfield grant from WEDC and more than $500,000 in assessment and reuse grants from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) for the project. Today, 382 Plexus jobs are located in downtown Neenah, and 75 employees are slated for a soon-to-open medical clinic. Together, these two new buildings are assessed at more than $23 million, and Plexus is looking to further expand by 2015. The project won the WDNR’s annual natural resources award in 2011 and Brownfield Renewal’s economic impact award in 2012. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also awarded Neenah two additional grants of $400,000 for community-wide hazardous substance assessments, which will allow it to transform other brownfield sites.