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Attracting visitors and talent to communities across Wisconsin

August 23, 2023
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Across the state, 33 communities received Vibrant Spaces Grant funding to revitalize public spaces through a WEDC pilot program.

MADISON, WI. JUNE 16, 2023 – From bustling city plazas to parks of all sorts, Wisconsin communities are building and opening new outdoor attractions to draw in visitors and new residents alike with the help of WEDC’s Vibrant Spaces Grants.

“Wisconsin’s communities are the best talent attraction and retention tool our state has,” says WEDC secretary and CEO Missy Hughes. “People want to live and work in thriving communities. The projects funded by these grants will create new gathering spaces and events as well as boost nearby businesses and improve quality of life. Creating vibrant communities is the foundation of economic development.”

The Vibrant Spaces Grants are a WEDC pilot program that allowed municipalities to apply for grants of up to $50,000 to assist with local placemaking efforts. The grants were intended to transform vacant or underused spaces into multipurpose community gathering spaces to draw visitors and residents into the surrounding community and businesses.

Demand for the grants was overwhelming, leading WEDC to double funding for the pilot program to $1.5 million. Across the state, 33 communities—ranging from Wisconsin’s largest cities to villages of just a few hundred people—received funding for initiatives ranging from creating outdoor stages to parks housing space for small businesses.

“What we saw was tremendous demand from communities of all sizes that recognized the power of these spaces as economic development tools,” says Hughes. “Business and community leaders from around the state wrote in support of these projects because they realize that these spaces will draw more people into their downtowns and make it easier for them to recruit workers.”

The Vibrant Spaces Grants that received funding through the pilot program include:

Vibrant Spaces Altoona

Altoona Container Park

Altoona Container Park – $25,000

The grant will allow the city of Altoona to create a container park offering emerging small businesses space for micro-retail establishments and restaurants. The park will also include a performance space, interactive games, and more to draw in visitors.

Chippewa Falls Harmony Court – $26,900

The project will transform Harmony Court from a downtown pedestrian walkway into a park with space for performances, events, and play.

Elkhorn Uncle Hunk’s Park – $33,265

An empty lot next to the Elkhorn Chamber of Commerce is being transformed into an outdoor lounge and event space with seating, art installations, and an Airstream trailer that will be converted into a cocktail bar for special events.

Gilman Farmers’ Market patio and park – $21,876

This northern Wisconsin village of fewer than 400 people is creating a patio area and park on Main Street near the public library. The site is beside a newly opened gift and coffee shop, making it an ideal spot for outdoor dining, socializing, and reading. The community created a farmers market last year and had been holding the markets in a gas station parking lot, which raised concerns about traffic. Plans call for moving the market to the new park, which will allow the market to grow.

Hayward Downtown Park – $48,043

The grant will aid the city in transforming what was once a parking lot into a park and event space with upgraded restrooms, electrical service, and picnic tables for dining. In the past, the city has had to close streets in order to hold events. The new park will help meet growing demand from businesses and community groups to hold special events downtown.

Iola Chester L. Krause Legacy Park – $50,000

The park, which features a mural depicting Krause’s life, is designed to increase foot traffic and focus on the surrounding downtown businesses and amenities. Krause, an author and businessman, was known for his work as numismatist creating well-respected currency collecting references. He was also the founder of the Iola Old Car Show.

Kaukauna Downtown “Parklets” – $50,000

Two vacant lots will be converted into small parks, or “parklets,” while an alley running through the parks will be repaired, creating a direct walkway between parking and downtown businesses.

Ladysmith Farmers Market Pavilion – $50,000

The grant will allow Ladysmith to construct a downtown pavilion to provide shade and protection from the elements for customers and vendors at the city’s farmers market and other special events.

Madison Lakefront Porch Planters – $25,000

New community garden planter boxes will be added to the city’s Lakefront Porch development at the Crowley Station platform of Madison Water Utility Well #17.

Medford Whelen Park – $50,000

A parking lot will be transformed into a new home for the city’s farmers market and other events. The project includes construction of a pavilion with a food service area and restrooms. The pavilion will also allow local businesses and organizations to host events downtown. Currently, events are limited because of a lack of public restrooms and limited access to power.

Vibrant Spaces Menomonie

Menomonie Library Waterfront Plaza

Menomonee Falls Centennial Plaza – $50,000

A 30-year-old space in the heart of downtown Menomonee Falls, Centennial Plaza will be revitalized with new amenities, shade, landscaping, and lighting. Plans call for the site to host a variety of events.

Menomonie Library Waterfront Plaza – $49,000

The city plans to connect the Menomonie Public Library’s waterfront space to existing walking and bike paths and create an outdoor lounge with seating and other amenities.

Vibrant Spaces Milwaukee Beerline

Milwaukee Beerline Plaza

Milwaukee Beerline Plaza – $50,000

The grant will be used to create Beerline Plaza, a community arts and business hub on the Beerline Trail and linking to historically divided neighborhoods. The funding will create vendor space and add lighting, seating, and bicycle parking.

Monroe Pocket Park – $50,000

A small park will be created at 1717 10th St. to help beautify the city’s key downtown business district.

Mosinee Square Park – $50,000

Square Park, located at the intersection of Main and Fourth streets, will be updated with a mural and new lighting, the adjacent parking lot converted into an event space with new lighting, and the parking lot’s storage shed transformed into a pavilion with glass doors and a sound system.

Neillsville O’Neill Creek Trailhead – $50,000

The funding will go toward the first phase of developing the O’Neill Creek Trailhead Park along Highway 73 and adjacent to the downtown business district. Plans call for making the trailhead accessible to all, with an inclusive playground, a wheelchair glider swing, a fishing pier, a kayak launch, adult fitness stations, a picnic shelter, and restrooms.

Oshkosh Arts Alley – $30,845

The project will transform an alley between 401 N. Main St. and 110 Algoma Boulevard into a pedestrian area with seating, event space, public art, and more.

Portage Pocket Park – $50,000

The city plans to turn a vacant lot at the intersection of Edgewater and DeWitt streets into a pocket park that will provide a gateway to the city’s business district and serve as a rest and relaxation space for local shoppers and diners as well as visitors using the nearby Ice Age Trail.

Rhinelander Art Park – $42,000

The grant will allow the city and community members to enhance the outdoor space next to the city’s ArtStart arts and cultural center. The space will include a stage, a children’s play area, a garden area that doubles as an art gallery, and seating. The Art Park will be used for performances and special events and as an outdoor arts classroom.

Ridgeway “The Green” – $50,000

The Village of Ridgeway plans to transform a vacant Main Street known as “The Green” into an inviting public space with seating and landscaping.

Ripon Village Green – $50,000

New lighting, seating, landscaping, and electrical upgrades will allow the Village Green to host larger events.

Vibrant Spaces Shawano

Shawano City Plaza

Rome Town Center – $50,000

The funding will be used to build a bandshell and pavilion at the Rome Town Center, 1159 Climbers Pass, Nekoosa. The center serves as the town’s main gathering space. The pavilion will host the Rome Farmers’ Market and the bandshell will be used for concerts, plays, and other events.

Shawano City Plaza – $50,000

The grant will allow the city to complete work on City Plaza, adding restrooms and more shaded seating. Work on the plaza began in 2020, and since then it has hosted numerous events, including concerts, festivals, a holiday tree lighting, and more.

Vibrant Spaces Sheboygan

Sheboygan Uptown Parklet

Sheboygan Uptown Parklet – $50,000

The city will use the funding to make street repairs to ease the annual transformation of part of St. Clair Avenue into a “parklet” from June through November to give visitors a place to enjoy food and beverages from surrounding restaurants. Plans also call for the construction of a moveable stage for outdoor concerts and events.

Sister Bay Park After Dark – $50,000

The city’s Park After Dark initiative will add stargazing-friendly lighting, expand the existing gazebo, and make accessibility improvements at Waterfront Park. The park, though popular in the daytime, is rarely used at night and is the only park serving Sister Bay’s main business district.

Spencer Lions’ Park Stage – $50,000

The grant will allow the village to construct a stage at Lions Park in order to host concerts and other special events that draw people into the downtown business area.

Vibrant Spaces Sturgeon Bay

Sturgeon Bay Door County Granary

Sturgeon Bay Door County Granary – $50,000

The original Teweles and Brandeis Grain Elevator is currently being restored by the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society Foundation, with plans for the granary to serve as a living museum. The green space and promenade surrounding the granary link to area trails and provide inviting access to the city’s western waterfront. The grant will build public restrooms at the site.

Two Rivers Central Park – $50,000

Two Rivers is transforming its Central Park into a year-round activities hub. Plans call for upgrading the stage for music, adding a sculptural splash pad, and building an ice-skating rink and a pavilion for year-round events.

Waunakee Historic Depot – $50,000

The grant will be used to improve the public space on the southeast side of the village’s historic railroad depot and to reconstruct the parking area at Reeve Park. The improvements will allow the village’s Chamber of Commerce, based in the depot, to host more public events.

Vibrant Spaces Waupaca

Waupaca Public Plaza

Waupaca Public Plaza – $39,614

The city plans to transform an abandoned side road running between the historic Danes Hall event venue and Rasmussen Gardens, a public park known for its ornamental gardens, into a public plaza for events.

Waupun Food Truck Alley – $45,001

Plans call for creating a food truck alley at 421 E. Main St., with space for four food trucks, outdoor seating, and art installations. With this project, the community hopes to address dining gaps created during the pandemic and draw people into nearby downtown businesses.

Vibrant Spaces West Allis

West Allis Pedestrian Plaza

West Allis Pedestrian Plaza – $27,931

The city plans to convert a side street into a pedestrian plaza where the 1300 block of South

72nd Street meets West Greenfield Avenue. The goal is to make West Allis’s business district more friendly to pedestrians.

Wonewoc Gathering Space – $48,763

The grant will allow the village to transform a rest area along the 400 State Trail with a new information kiosk with wifi, water, and electrical hookups; walkways from the trail; seating; and public art displays.

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