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City of Ashland receives $125,000 for downtown building renovation

January 12, 2023
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WEDC grant supports creation of an event space in the former Union Bank

ASHLAND, WI. JAN. 12, 2023 – The City of Ashland is receiving a $125,000 state grant to help open a wedding and event space. This new venue will maintain the historic building’s interior look from its days as the Union Bank, albeit with an entirely different use, while making Ashland a destination for weddings and extending the city’s downtown commercial area.

The Community Development Investment Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) will support much-needed renovations to the building at 100 Main Street West in Ashland. Once renovated, the second floor will become home to The Union, a wedding and event venue upstairs from the existing Union Boutique.

“This project will help preserve a historic building while giving the community a valuable new space in The Union,” said Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of WEDC, the state’s leading economic development organization. “WEDC is always thrilled to support communities and developers in their efforts to open businesses, revitalize downtown areas and maintain historically significant properties. This checks all those boxes.”

“Although it’s a beautiful building on the outside, the inside needed a lot of help,” said Ashland’s Main Street Manager Jaclynn Findlay. “To give the community access to that space again is so cool. Even when the boutique opened on the first floor, people were so excited just to get a glimpse of the space after 30 years of it being vacant.”

In 2021, Jeanne Aspenson filled part of the building’s first floor with Union Boutique, which sells women’s fashion products including jewelry, clothing and footwear. Now, Aspenson is buying the entire building and opening The Union.

“I’ve seen a need for this, here — there really aren’t many places to have wedding receptions,” Aspenson said. “Most of the locals, when I tell them, are very excited about this.”

Necessary renovations to the building’s second floor include a heating system and a new roof, among other work. Aspenson plans to restore the historic ceiling, which has sustained a lot of damage since the Union Bank closed more than 30 years ago. On the first floor, along with the existing Union Boutique, Aspenson will be adding a pair of short-term rental ­­­­units for wedding guests to rent and stay in. Additionally, she may later turn the former bank vault into a bar and lounge space as an extension of the wedding venue.

“Jeanne’s working to make our downtown a destination,” Findlay said. “We’re a community on the water, we have a thriving downtown that’s going through a revitalization and we’ve got plenty of parking. I think we’re set up really well for something like this, we just haven’t had the right space, developer or opportunity to do it in the past.”

WEDC’s Community Development Investment Grant Program supports community development and redevelopment efforts, primarily in downtown areas. The matching grants are awarded based on the ability of applicants to demonstrate the economic impact of the proposed project, including public and private partnership development, financial need, and use of sustainable downtown development practices.

“Because this is such a huge project, we wouldn’t have purchased the building if not for the grant,” Aspenson said. “It was instrumental in deciding whether to go forward with this.”

From the program’s inception in 2013 through September 20, 2022, WEDC has awarded nearly $36.5 million in CDI Grants to 176 communities for projects expected to generate more than $750 million in capital investments statewide.

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