By Joe Lawniczak, Wisconsin Main Street
As we wrap up our 35th year of the Wisconsin Main Street Program, we felt inspired to look back on some of the downtown redevelopment successes from that time period. For this issue, we’ve decided to highlight a variety of adaptive reuse developments in our communities because they touch on so many facets of the Main Street Four Point Approach—such as redevelopment, historic preservation, sustainability, reuse, accessibility, public-private investment, feasibility studies, market analyses, marketing and more.
Some of the first adaptive reuse projects occurred in the early 1990s—in many cases, spurred by the threat of demolition, with local groups coming together to save them from the wrecking ball. Some communities recruited developers to take on projects; others brought the public and private sectors together and took a community-initiated development approach. Still others were carried out by the current or new owners on behalf of their own businesses. Most utilized local, state and/or federal incentives such as revolving loan funds, façade grants, tax credits, brownfield cleanup funds, Community Development Investment (CDI) or Idle Sites Grants and more.
These redevelopment projects took place in former industrial buildings, schools, churches, gas stations, fire stations, government buildings, train depots and office buildings. These structures were converted into housing, hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, breweries, galleries, public markets, event spaces and more. The new developments cover a range of style and ambience—from elegant and stately to hip, urban and chic to quirky, funky and fun. We hope you enjoy this look back and are inspired to reuse and redevelop some of the “diamonds in the rough” in your own community.
EARLY PROJECTS: THE TRENDSETTERS
Tower Hall, Marshfield
When the city vacated this stately building for a new, modern one on the other end of downtown, it was redeveloped into affordable and market-rate housing.
Lawton Foundry, De Pere
This former metal foundry was converted into loft and townhouse apartments in the heart of downtown.
Brickner Woolen Mills, Sheboygan Falls
This former woolen mill was converted into housing, bringing hundreds of built-in customers just steps away from downtown businesses.
Old Village Hall, Tigerton
This small community of 750 people came together, with Tigerton Main Street taking the lead, to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the restoration of the badly deteriorated former village hall. It now serves as a community center, Main Street program office and more.
DEPOT CONVERSIONS: ALL ABOARD
Titletown Brewery, Green Bay
This former Chicago & North Western train depot was converted into the home of Titletown Brewery.
Visitor Center, Richland Center
This former Milwaukee Road train depot was converted into an impressive welcome center for the Richland Center Chamber of Commerce.
Soo Line Depot, Ashland
This former Soo Line depot was restored in the 1990’s, but was gutted by fire in 2000. It has since been restored again and now houses multiple commercial tenants.
Hayes Auto, Watertown
This small, former depot sat underutilized on the site of a local auto dealer. The owners converted it into a detailing workspace and showroom while retaining its original character.
GAS STATIONS: FULL SERVICE OF A DIFFERENT KIND
Sherman Perk, Milwaukee
This impressive renovation was one of the first service station reuse projects in the state, and it still inspires today.
Lewis Station Winery, Lake Mills
This former service station was reborn as one of the first downtown wineries in the state, and it still brings in wine enthusiasts today.
City Service Brewing, Darlington
This corner service station in the heart of downtown was brought back to its former glory with a funky new auto-themed brewery and antique store.
Kickapoo Coffee, Viroqua
This service station went from tune-ups and tire rotations to serving coffee and scones in a short time thanks to the hard work of its new owners.
BOUTIQUE HOTELS: FROM SHABBY TO CHIC
The Charmant Hotel, La Crosse
The owners took this former candy factory (later a furniture store) and transformed it into a luxury 67-room hotel with multiple restaurants and a rooftop terrace.
Stella Hotel and Ballroom, Kenosha
After being eyed for demolition for years, the community worked to save this long-vacant Elks Club. A developer converted it into a state-of-the-art (yet historic) hotel and ballroom.
Hotel Goodwin, Beloit
This modern yet classic hotel, restaurant and rooftop terrace was created from a former mixed-use office building.
CHURCHES: SAVED BY THE BELL
Trinity Restaurant/The Cellar District, Fond du Lac
This former church was first converted into a stunning restaurant named Trinity. It was then transformed into an equally impressive restaurant called the Cellar District.
Sepia Chapel, Two Rivers
This beautiful church was repurposed as a classy wedding and events center.
Cynthia Weston Interior Design, Lake Mills
This stunning former church is now the home and office of a local artist and interior designer, and twice each year they host an antique estate sale with amazing displays.
The Vintage Flip, Lake Mills
In the same city and with a similar vibe as the Cynthia Weston example above, this former church now houses a vintage retail shop.
INDUSTRIAL: MANUFACTURING NEW SPACES
The Powerhouse, Beloit
This former electrical power plant was converted into the Beloit College student union and athletic center.
Larsen Green/Railyard District, Green Bay
The former Larsen Canning facility is a multi-building redevelopment that incorporates dozens of new uses, including a brewery, offices, retail, restaurants, event venues, housing and more.
Tobacco Warehouses, Edgerton
Edgerton is known for its historic tobacco warehouses. Several of the remaining structures have been converted to a mix of uses, including a few that have been brought back to life with loft apartments.
Feed Mill Shops, Elkhart Lake
This row of former feed mill buildings has been transformed into quaint and attractive shops and restaurants.
MISCELLANEOUS: THE BEST OF THE REST
Spa Boutique @ Barbershop Rock, Platteville
This hip spa and barber shop was carved out of a stately residential home in downtown Platteville. Each area of the interior has its own unique charm.
Public Market, Viroqua
This former auto dealership was renovated into an indoor public market, taking advantage of the large former showroom, which now functions as the main market area.
18 Hands Ale Haus, Fond du Lac
This former carriage house was converted into a stucco office building decades ago. The new owner converted it once again, this time into a quaint brewpub and beer garden with residential units above.
Chippewa River Distillery, Chippewa Falls
Even non-historic buildings can be reused. This metal pole building was converted and expanded to create a new distillery, bar and patio.
We hope you enjoyed this quick tour of adaptive reuse projects from around Wisconsin. We hope they inspire you to save, retain, preserve, renovate and reuse buildings of all styles from our past that have outlived their previous uses. These buildings bring out the unique character that sets your community apart from all others. With your help, countless more can be transformed into attractive spaces instead of being lost to the wrecking ball.