The Wisconsin Main Street Awards—now in their 28th year—were held April 26 in Chippewa Falls, recognizing the best downtown revitalization projects of 2018.
Mark R. Hogan, secretary and CEO of WEDC, and other WEDC leaders were on hand to recognize the efforts by Main Street volunteers and staff for the historic preservation and downtown economic development efforts in Wisconsin communities.
“All across the state, those involved in the Wisconsin Main Street Program are making a real difference in improving their downtowns by developing new and innovative ways to attract visitors and support local businesses,” Hogan said. “These awards recognize the organizations and dedicated individuals whose efforts not only benefit their communities, but also set the standard for other Main Street communities statewide.”
The property transformations are always highly anticipated awards categories, notes WEDC Downtown Development Program Manager Errin Welty. This year, The Hub on 6th project in La Crosse (the honorable mention in the Best Adaptive Reuse category) illustrated that even mid-century office properties can be reinterpreted and reinvented as unique and attractive residential space, with sustainable features to boot. Meanwhile, the renovation of the former Larsen Canning Factory in Green Bay (the Best Adaptive Reuse winner) reinforced the importance of persistence in planning: Once slated to be torn down for a Walmart, the renovated property is now anchoring a renaissance on the northern end of the city’s Broadway district, home to a co-working space, a brewery and multiple small businesses.
The awards ceremony also highlighted the way local events can have an outsized return on investment by creating memorable experiences that leave people wanting more. Wausau’s Exhibitour event (the Best Retail Event winner) combined the trendy concepts of art crawl and wine walk into a multi-stop art experience, allowing participants to enjoy food, wine and live art demonstrations in more than 20 downtown shops.
The changing nature of downtown development was also evident in this year’s list of award winners. In years past, a predictable list of traditional business types made up the “wish list” for a downtown: a toy store, a bakery, a coffee shop. Today, the Best New Business nominees often defy these expected categories and offer a unique mix of products and services in spaces with character. This year’s Best New Business winner, Aunt Ethel’s Adult Emporium in De Pere, is a new take on a traditional arcade. Seeking to spur evening activity and effectively utilize an oddly configured space that dates to the 1880s, owners Casey and Tim Jelinski settled on a vintage adult arcade as their concept. The business has achieved its goal of creating a hip hangout, hosting more than 25 corporate events so far and attracting nearly 12,000 social media hits over opening weekend—one of the modern-day metrics of a successful business launch.
Wisconsin Main Street is a community development program administered by WEDC that targets Wisconsin’s historic commercial districts. WEDC provides technical support and training to the 34 Main Street communities to help them revitalize their business districts based on guidelines developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
During fiscal year 2018, Wisconsin Main Street communities were responsible for the creation of an estimated 619 net new jobs and 137 net new businesses in the state. More than 41,000 volunteer hours were worked in those communities.
Since the program’s inception in 1987, Wisconsin Main Street community projects have resulted in the creation of more than 2,700 new businesses and more than 14,000 net new jobs. In addition, more than $1.9 billion in public and private investment has occurred in Wisconsin Main Street communities.
Also included for the awards ceremony were members of WEDC’s Connect Communities Program, a companion program to Wisconsin Main Street created in 2013 to provide access to resources and training to help communities pursue revitalization and redevelopment efforts. In fiscal year 2018, the 69 participating communities added 66 net new businesses, more than 77 net new jobs and $850 million in public and private investment.