The site of a blighted Prairie du Chien strip mall will get new life as much-needed affordable housing and commercial space with the help of a $250,000 grant from WEDC.
The Idle Sites Redevelopment Grant enabled the city to demolish the Blackhawk Junction Mall and conduct site remediation in advance of the construction of 96 units of affordable housing along with small, community-oriented businesses.
“As folks look for job and career opportunities in new communities, access to housing ensures they can live closer to where they work,” Governor Tony Evers said in a visit to the site. “Not only will this project meet several of the most pressing needs of the Prairie du Chien community, but it will create a new commercial center.”
The nine-acre downtown mall was built in 1962 but fell into disrepair, and was damaged by a fire in April 2014.
Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of WEDC, says the project has the potential to spur even more business growth in Prairie du Chien.
“The new development will allow the local businesses located here to move into modern quarters with the potential to grow,” Hughes said, adding that the development can also attract new businesses to serve the residents at the development.
Carol Roth, executive director of Driftless Development Inc., the economic development organization serving Crawford County, said she frequently hears of the pressing need for quality, affordable housing in the area.
“That is really one of the biggest challenges for anyone trying to start or grow their businesses,” she said. “It is difficult to grow if there is no place to live.”
The project will be built in two phases, each with 48 housing units and three two-story buildings. The city is working with Pelton Development LLC, which will be responsible for the project’s development.
Another aspect of the project is the development of 43,000 square feet of commercial space in new buildings on the northern half of the site, which are projected to result in the addition of $7 million to the tax base.
Officials are negotiating with some of the remaining mall tenants to move into the new commercial space.
Carl Colsch, owner of Mississippi Meats, said plans call for his business to move into a new storefront more than three times the size of his current operation. Plans also call for adding more grocery items and a hot deli.
“We’re trying to keep the front end smaller, so it still has the neighborhood-market feel,” Colsch said, adding that the project’s housing component will offer new and nearby customers and potential employees.
Royal Bank, a locally owned and operated community bank, is also one of the entities that are part of the new commercial development. Like Mississippi Meats, the bank’s current building will be razed as soon as the new building is operational. Jeff Gruetzmacher, senior vice president of Royal Bank, said this grant would create the opportunity for the bank and other businesses to build a new future in the area. “We are confident that the city will continue to work with businesses to help redevelop the area in a way that will help create a new entry to Prairie,” he said.
Prairie du Chien Mayor Dave Hemmer said the project is important because the limited supply of employee housing is a major barrier to attracting workers.
“There are jobs in Prairie du Chien, no doubt about that,” said Hemmer. “Now, we’re going to have places for people to live.”
The Idle Sites Redevelopment Grant Program is intended to stimulate job creation in idle, abandoned or underused manufacturing and commercial sites. The grants help ensure that distressed properties can be redeveloped to boost community investment, property values and jobs.