To help cities redevelop abandoned or idle sites often seen as “eyesores” within their communities, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) created the Idle Sites Redevelopment Program in 2013. Building upon the success of the first two rounds of investments, WEDC has awarded $2.3 million in new Idle Sites Redevelopment Program grants to five Wisconsin communities and will soon invite applications for fiscal-year 2017 (FY17) funding.

The Idle Sites Redevelopment Program offers grants of up to $500,000 for the development of large industrial and commercial sites that have been idle for more than five years to reinvigorate local communities. Grants can be used for demolition, environmental remediation or site-specific improvements to advance the site’s market attractiveness to encourage further business growth.

WEDC awarded more than $8.5 million in grants in 2013 to 10 projects throughout Wisconsin. Those 10 projects have drawn an additional $286 million in investment and are projected to create more than 8,000 jobs in addition to the 5,000-plus construction jobs supported by the redevelopment.

Among the communities benefiting from WEDC’s first round of grants was Waterloo, which is working with public and private partners to redevelop the site of a vacant 333,000 square-foot building left by commercial printer RR Donnelley when it closed shop in 2004.

“Redeveloping this site will have positive economic and psychological effects on this community,” said Waterloo Clerk and Treasurer Mo Hansen. Waterloo is a community of 3,300 people, 700 of which lost their jobs when RR Donnelley shut down. Waterloo is one of the smallest communities to receive an Idle Sites Redevelopment Program grant, and Hansen says that partnering with WEDC on its redevelopment project is vitally important.

“Working with WEDC has helped us leverage developer relationships that would not have been possible otherwise,” Hansen said.

An apartment building and assisted-living facility will replace the RR Donnelley building on the site adjacent to the Maunesha River, which also abuts two-story historic buildings. The redevelopment plan also calls for the creation of a riverfront park. Hansen notes that 88 percent of the available apartments received occupancy commitments within 90 days of hitting the market, attesting to strong housing market forces in the community, which has historically experienced few housing starts, unlike the burgeoning community of Sun Prairie just 15 miles away.

Underscoring the economic benefits of the redevelopment to the city, Hansen notes that after the first phase of the project’s build-out, the site’s property value will surpass that of the RR Donnelley plant.

Included in WEDC’s current round of Idle Sites Redevelopment Program grants are properties in Madison (Garner Feed Mill), Muskego (Parkland Mall), Kimberly (NewPage Paper Mill), Oshkosh (Jeld-Wen) and Green Bay (Larsen Green). In addition to WEDC’s grant for each project, which ranges from $375,000 to $500,000, each municipality has pledged significant matching investments.

“Building upon the strong track record of WEDC’s Idle Sites Redevelopment Program, we have committed to help transform the underused spaces in these five Wisconsin communities,” said Jason Scott, WEDC regional economic development director. “Community development projects such as these that increase social engagement among citizens are critical to growing local economies.”

WEDC is preparing to invite new applications for the Idle Sites Redevelopment Program and has again budgeted $2.3 million for the initiative for FY17. The application window will open this summer, with a deadline for submission in the fall.