WEDC grant will aid in turning former high school into downtown housing
MAYVILLE, WI. JULY 18, 2022 – Old buildings are sparking new life in this small city’s downtown thanks to dedicated business owners and city leaders with help from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).
A city of about 5,000 people just east of the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, Mayville has been making smart investments in their downtown through support for facade improvements, adding creative amenities, historic renovation and making use of state resources to lure both residents and visitors to their city center along the Rock River.
“Mayville has been bringing new life to its historic downtown by supporting small business owners, assisting renovation projects that create a picture perfect small town scene and offering events that give people a reason to visit,” said Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of WEDC, the state’s lead economic development agency. “WEDC is proud to have assisted many of these efforts and we’re happy to partner with the city as they take the next step in their downtown revitalization – creating housing for residents to live downtown.”
Hughes and WEDC Deputy Secretary and COO Sam Rikkers visited Mayville Monday to announce that the city has been awarded a $250,000 Community Development Investment grant for the Albrecht School Apartments. The development will create 20 apartments and a commercial space in the century old former Mayville High School – an iconic red brick building in the heart of downtown.
Hughes and Rikkers also toured a number of businesses that WEDC has supported including Main Street Makeover winner Fred’s Beds and More, the nonprofit Open Door Coffeehouse and Sweet Pea’s Pie.
“What we’re trying to do is turn Mayville into a destination for new businesses and travel enthusiasts,” said Dawn Gindt, manager of Mayville’s Main Street Program and Chamber of Commerce administrator. “We are a rural community. We have the same struggles everyone does in terms of funding. WEDC and their continued generous support has really helped us make great strides.”
In addition to welcoming new businesses, the city has closed part of Allen Street to create an outdoor entertainment venue with tables for dining and a bandstand for concerts. The local Rotary Club stocked a downtown park along the Rock River with kayaks that are free for anyone to use and work on an honor system, Gindt said.
Much of Mayville’s downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places so preserving the city’s architecture and ambience is key, Gindt said.
That history is important to many community members and business owners too.
Andres Lezama and his wife, Lindsey, are transforming Mayville’s former high school into the Albrecht School Apartments.
Lezama is the owner of Mayville’s BYCO Floor and Tile – a business started by his grandparents in 1953. He has already uncovered some family history as work begins on the renovating the school where his great grandmother once taught.
“We found her teaching contract from 1926,” Lezama said. “She was paid $1,000 a year for teaching German. Then World War II came and she became a music teacher.”
At an open house this summer, Lezama was overwhelmed with the number of community members who came and shared their memories of the school. In particular, he remembers a couple in their 80s who asked him to take a photo of them in the spot where they first met in high school.
Memories like that are the reason why Lezama said the project is trying to preserve as much of the historic building as possible while still making needed modern updates. It would be cost prohibitive without the $250,000 grant from WEDC, he said.
“You can’t really put a price on that to be able to preserve that history and breathe new life into it, it’s a definite blessing,” Lezama said.
It was the historic look and amazing people that convinced Rachel Smith and her husband, Kyle, to relocate their pie business to Mayville after finding the perfect Main Street building for their business. Sweet Pea’s Pie opened on Main Street last year with the help of a $31,000 Community Development Investment grant from WEDC.
“Mayville just literally greeted us with open arms and never quit,” Smith said. “They want you to make it. They want Mayville to grow. The community is our cheerleader.”
It was an unplanned stop at the Open Door Coffeehouse on a road trip that first drew Smith’s attention to Mayville.
Since then, however, Open Door has outgrown its former home and has a new, accessible Main Street space that allows the nonprofit to offer more programming and serve more people, said Amber Schraufnagel, president and founder of Mayville Open Door.
The nonprofit uses the funds raised by the coffeehouse to support its work offering mental health and parenting support as well as youth programming. WEDC supported the new coffeehouse at 20 S. Main St. with a $137,500 Community Development Investment grant.
The new space allows the group to offer multiple programs at once, Schraufnagel said. The coffeehouse has become a go-to meeting spot for other groups in the city including Girl Scouts and a local veterans’ group that meets weekly. Staff save some of their tips and others contribute to cover the veterans’ coffee, Schraufnagel said.
“It has really become the place where people meet,” Schraufnagel said. “It’s definitely become a home for a lot of people.”
Even in an historic downtown, one new business has a brand-new look thanks to the WEDC Main Street Makeover.
A team from WEDC and Milwaukee design firm Retailworks worked with business owners Jeff and Janine Andes to create a new look for Fred’s Beds and More, a furniture and home décor store. WEDC provided up to $10,000 to carry out the plans in June.
“I feel completely hopeful,” Janine Andes said. “The community members have been so supportive. I think it means a lot to them that business owners are willing to invest in the city they call home.”
City officials are hoping the latest development, the Albrecht School Apartments, will allow more residents to call Mayville home, Gindt said. In the meantime, downtown Mayville is welcoming visitors and birding enthusiasts checking out the nearby Horicon Marsh often via the kayaks or free bike rentals through a downtown hardware store, she said.
As for what kind of city Mayville is – Gindt said she asked the Rotary Club how many kayaks had been lost after the first season of use. The answer: None, although the club somehow ended up with one more life jacket than they had at the start of the season.