Wisconsin’s downtowns honored

Umbrella Art over Third Street in Wausau.

Umbrella Art over Third Street in Wausau.

The state’s best downtown revitalization projects of 2016 were honored this month at the 26th Wisconsin Main Street Awards ceremony in Wisconsin Rapids—a testament to the fact that the state’s economic success relies not just on thriving urban centers, but also on economic development in small and midsize communities in every region of the state.

Among the communities honored was Wausau, which received the Best Public-Private Partnership in Downtown Revitalization award for its Umbrella Art over Third Street installation.

Over the years, Wausau has been investing in its downtown to attract shoppers and visitors, including numerous façade improvements, a theater district, a central public space, a new hotel and more, in an ongoing effort to attract people to experience all downtown Wausau has to offer. The umbrella art project took root when Mark Craig, a Wausau River District Board member, came across a Facebook post of umbrellas over a street in Portugal and imagined a similar display in downtown Wausau. Once installed, the project became a social media sensation, winning national recognition for Wausau and inspiring other downtowns around the country to create similar displays.

A donation from Compass Properties, the largest property management company in downtown Wausau, covered the cost of the installation, which stayed up for 10 weeks. Umbrella Art over Third Street will return to Wausau twice a year for 10 weeks at a time, from March through May and August through November.

Wisconsin is widely recognized for its innovative approaches to encouraging social connections among community residents through well-planned, -maintained and -programmed spaces. Through the Wisconsin Main Street Program, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) provides technical assistance to communities in the planning, management and implementation of strategic development projects in downtowns and urban neighborhoods. Through its community development initiatives, WEDC works in partnership with communities to help them thrive and seize opportunities.

“The Wisconsin Main Street Program is a true success story that has revitalized downtown districts throughout the state and has provided a significant economic boost to the local communities,” says Tricia Braun, WEDC deputy secretary and chief operating officer. “This is a great way to recognize the amazing work being done by the volunteers and staffers who play a key role in that success.”

During fiscal year 2016, Wisconsin Main Street communities were responsible for the creation of an estimated 744 net new jobs and 138 net new businesses in the state. Public investment of $12 million was leveraged to draw $163 million in private investment. A total of 294 buildings were improved, renovated or constructed; 97 residential units were created; and 598 events were held, attracting 1.6 million visitors to Wisconsin downtowns and historic commercial districts.

Since its creation in 1987, the Wisconsin Main Street Program has impacted more than 65 communities, and has been responsible for the creation of an estimated 13,498 net new jobs and 2,559 net new businesses. Public investment of $341 million has been leveraged to draw more than $1.3 billion in private investment. In short, Wisconsin’s historic downtown districts would not be what they are today without their Main Street organizations.

Main Street projects are not quick fixes, and historic commercial districts are never truly complete. Revitalization is comprehensive, incremental and implementation-oriented, and requires ongoing management. This past year, collectively, more than 61,000 volunteer hours were dedicated to improving the quality of life in communities around the state. The Main Street Awards ceremony recognizes and celebrates this dedication.

View a full list of the 2017 Main Street Awards winners.