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The Broadway District sits on the west bank of the Fox River in Green Bay. As a riverfront location, the area has long been a center of commerce, whether for the fur trade, lumber, paper or, today, as a hive for small businesses and entrepreneurs. However, this transition was not without difficulty, as the 1980s saw the district become a high-crime area defined by disrepair and vacancy. In 1995, a group of persistent local merchants, neighbors and community leaders launched a Main Street organization to reclaim the street. Some early triumphs included a new streetscape, a partnership with local police, and creation of a supportive small business and live-work environment. As of 2009, the district had already achieved success, with the renovation of 91 properties and development of four new infill projects. Progress has continued since that time, with the addition of new residential opportunities and further reduction in storefront vacancies. The most notable change is the conversion of a former train depot and later an adjacent vegetable processing facility into the Titletown Brewery, restaurant, tap room and event center. Over its entire tenure, the district has had a net gain of 171 new businesses that employ more than 1,600 individuals, and has attracted just shy of $69 million in private investment to improve 167 buildings. With 45 statewide awards, the district is the ‘winningest’ community in the state, and is well-known for innovative adaptive reuse projects and regionally significant marketing and event initiatives that bring thousands to shop, dine and stroll during annual events such as the Winter Wine Walk and Wednesday and Saturday farmers’ markets.

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Beloit, another of Wisconsin’s inaugural Main Street communities, has sustained commitment to downtown progress for more than two and a half decades. A former factory town blessed with the presence of a river and downtown campus (Beloit College), Beloit has channeled the passion of its residents into a successfully reimagined community on the riverfront. As with all Great American Main Street Award winners, Downtown Beloit has established strong local partnerships. Housed together with the Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation, Visit Beloit and the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce, the organization has generated regional support for its numerous public art initiatives and innovative incentive strategies, which, in turn have resulted in quality renovations and numerous small business success stories. Moving from 19 percent vacancy in 1988 to 7 percent in 2011, and then to a waiting list of prospective businesses in 2015, Beloit is a downtown success story by any measure. Community pride led directly to the successful community-initiated development project, which created the Beloit Inn, a luxury downtown hotel project. Other community-driven initiatives and partnerships include the conversion of a former Woolworth store into a local foods grocery, creation of the Beloit Fine Arts Incubator, and selection of a downtown location for the Beloit College bookstore. Cumulative private investments of $70 million have created appealing spaces for entrepreneurs, tech companies and civic organizations alike, leading to a 192 percent increase in property values over the past 20 years and rehabilitation of more than 286 buildings. The adaptive reuse of the 750,000-square-foot former Ironworks building, begun in 2014, is the next phase of this activity. Already home to numerous software and technology-based firms, the building is also slated to become home to the regional YMCA, with a proposed pedestrian bridge across the Rock River providing additional connectivity. Moving forward, the organization continues to focus on residential development, including upper floor conversion and infill units designed to meet the needs of a growing workforce and Baby Boomer market; recruitment of additional restaurants to complement a growing food cluster; and expansion of an already active public art scene. The Downtown Beloit Association is responsible for more than 40 days of events each year, including an award-winning farmers’ market and month-long winter holiday celebration.

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The Sheboygan Falls Main Street Program began in December 1988, when it was named one of the first five pilot Main Street programs in the state of Wisconsin. At this time, only three buildings in downtown Sheboygan Falls had been renovated, and many stood vacant. However, the actual push for downtown revitalization had begun nearly 15 years earlier, when a few passionate individuals formed a Sheboygan Falls historic preservation group out of the Sheboygan County Landmarks Association. Two separate historic districts were created as a result of this effort. The community effort to launch the program resulted in significant private sector investment, as local property improvements totaled more than $3.6 million in the program’s fifth year after steady year-over-year improvements. Early successes included the Brickner Woolen Mill Apartments, which was a successful $3.3 million adaptive reuse project to create affordable housing units along the river downtown. Projects like this, along with many individual business examples, paved the way for the Brickner Square project and 1878 Broadway redevelopment, which both resulted from local investors pooling funds to purchase and restore long-vacant properties. Bemis Manufacturing was an early investor, leading by example through renovations of a downtown showroom facility, but also providing $15,000 in seed funding toward a revolving loan pool for other downtown property owners. Early activities also set the stage for community-oriented and family-friendly events such as the Ducktona 500, which has grown to attract 8,000 annual attendees. Today, Sheboygan Falls is one of Wisconsin’s successful Chamber-Main Street organizations, a model made possible when the larger business community recognizes that the health of the downtown center is a reflection of overall economic opportunity. Sheboygan Falls has won more than 40 statewide Main Street awards in virtually every category offered. The program is especially recognized for its well-preserved historic architecture and successful community-wide partnerships designed to engage the City, business community, civic organizations and residents to preserve and promote a strong and vibrant local community while retaining its quintessential small-town charm.

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After a historic paper mill in downtown Neenah closed in 2006, the 16-acre site was in danger of becoming an eyesore that lowered property values and hindered economic development.

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