Main Street & Connect Communities
Since joining Connect Communities in the program’s inaugural year in 2013, this village of 1,500 has made significant strides to reverse a rise in vacancies that followed the decline of the pottery craze that had sparked a retail and property boom in the 1990s. In the past three years, the community has welcomed 21 new businesses and $1.8 million in private investment in the downtown area. Activity has included the conversion of a shuttered candy factory into a riverfront senior living complex, expansion of the library and community center (complete with a wifi plaza), and many new programs and events such as a community branding initiative, pop-up art markets, a girls’ night out series and entrepreneur meet-ups. In additional, the community has created a building improvement program to help renovate front- and rear-facing facades to make empty spaces appealing to new businesses.
Welcomed into the Connect Communities program in 2014, La Farge has already made strides to formalize its downtown revitalization effort. Beginning with a strategic planning effort facilitated by the Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission, the community has also created a dedicated nonprofit entity (La Farge Area Progress Association); introduced streetscape elements including banners, holiday lighting and vacant window displays; created a local business brochure; and jumpstarted recreation planning activities. Located near multiple regional recreation attractions and suffering from an underutilized riverfront area in the wake of floodplain demolition, La Farge created a new 15-acre park, raising funds to install a fishing pier and disc golf course. The community is also leveraging local partnerships to support entrepreneurs, fill downtown vacancies and accommodate resident and visitor shopping and dining interests.
One of the original Connect Communities applicants, downtown Mosinee was facing a number of challenges including multiple vacancies and an unremarkable downtown streetscape. In the past three years, the city has led the way by creating a downtown TIF district and building improvement grant program, which has resulted in six property improvement projects. The city also took the lead in improving downtown aesthetics through adding new street banners, hanging flower baskets and creating a downtown playground, and is working on a trail extension. The business community has also come together for some marketing initiatives, including a promotional video series highlighting local shopping and dining options.
Beloit, another of Wisconsin’s inaugural Main Street communities, has sustained commitment to downtown progress for more than two and a half decades. A former factory town blessed with the presence of a river and downtown campus (Beloit College), Beloit has channeled the passion of its residents into a successfully reimagined community on the riverfront. As with all Great American Main Street Award winners, Downtown Beloit has established strong local partnerships. Housed together with the Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation, Visit Beloit and the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce, the organization has generated regional support for its numerous public art initiatives and innovative incentive strategies, which, in turn have resulted in quality renovations and numerous small business success stories.
Chippewa Falls Main Street was established in 1989, just one year after the formation of the statewide program. Chippewa Falls' Main Street Program has always been known for its abundance of dedicated volunteers and an engaged business community, and is no stranger to publicity. In addition to receiving the Great American Main Street Awards, Chippewa Falls was named by Time magazine as one of America's top 10 small towns to live in, was mentioned in Wisconsin’s State of the State address, and was named in 2000 as one of 12 national "Distinctive Destinations" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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.
Created by a public-private partnership in 1990, Downtown Mainstreet Inc. of La Crosse spearheaded the creation of the city's first comprehensive master plan for its downtown in order to address perceived economic deterioration of the city’s historic district. Today, La Crosse is one of the largest National Register Commercial Historic Districts in Wisconsin, containing 96 contributing buildings. Early preservation efforts led to the completion of a $2.9 million river levee project to protect downtown from Mississippi River flooding. In addition to serving a critical purpose, the project features a riverwalk, recreational boat docking facility, wayfinding signage and downtown streetscaping initiatives.
The Broadway District sits on the west bank of the Fox River in Green Bay. As a riverfront location, the area has long been a center of commerce, whether for the fur trade, lumber, paper or, today, as a hive for small businesses and entrepreneurs. However, this transition was not without difficulty, as the 1980s saw the district become a high-crime area defined by disrepair and vacancy. In 1995, a group of persistent local merchants, neighbors and community leaders launched a Main Street organization to reclaim the street. Some early triumphs included a new streetscape, a partnership with local police, and creation of a supportive small business and live-work environment.
The Sheboygan Falls Main Street Program began in December 1988, when it was named one of the first five pilot Main Street programs in the state of Wisconsin. At this time, only three buildings in downtown Sheboygan Falls had been renovated, and many stood vacant. However, the actual push for downtown revitalization had begun nearly 15 years earlier, when a few passionate individuals formed a Sheboygan Falls historic preservation group out of the Sheboygan County Landmarks Association. Two separate historic districts were created as a result of this effort. The community effort to launch the program resulted in significant private sector investment, as local property improvements totaled more than $3.6 million in the program’s fifth year after steady year-over-year improvements.