Since joining Connect Communities in the program’s inaugural year in 2013, this village of 1,500 has made significant strides to reverse a rise in vacancies that followed the decline of the pottery craze that had sparked a retail and property boom in the 1990s. In the past three years, the community has welcomed 21 new businesses and $1.8 million in private investment in the downtown area. Activity has included the conversion of a shuttered candy factory into a riverfront senior living complex, expansion of the library and community center (complete with a wifi plaza), and many new programs and events such as a community branding initiative, pop-up art markets, a girls’ night out series and entrepreneur meet-ups. In additional, the community has created a building improvement program to help renovate front- and rear-facing facades to make empty spaces appealing to new businesses.
Chippewa Falls Main Street was established in 1989, just one year after the formation of the statewide program. Chippewa Falls' Main Street Program has always been known for its abundance of dedicated volunteers and an engaged business community, and is no stranger to publicity. In addition to receiving the Great American Main Street Awards, Chippewa Falls was named by Time magazine as one of America's top 10 small towns to live in, was mentioned in Wisconsin’s State of the State address, and was named in 2000 as one of 12 national "Distinctive Destinations" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The city has been a strong partner in the effort, with multiple staff and elected officials serving on the organization’s board and committees. Together, the community and the Main Street organization have addressed numerous issues, including a 2005 highway bypass of downtown, catalyzing investment in wayfinding and marketing initiatives downtown. Beginning in 2014, the city embarked on a $10 million project to restore the waterfront, starting with a new visitors’ center at the gateway to downtown. Plans also include a new riverwalk and waterfront event space, and the city is in negotiations with developers of a proposed hotel on an infill site downtown. During its 26-year tenure, the program has seen $58 million in private investment and $43 million in public investment, including the previously mentioned riverfront improvements. The supportive business climate has facilitated 256 individual property improvement projects and sustained near 100 percent storefront occupancy along Bridge Street. Not surprisingly, Chippewa Falls Main Street has won 39 Wisconsin Main Street awards, with a particular emphasis on retail events and community engagement, most notably with the long-running Paint the Town event series. Also noteworthy is the district’s emphasis on high-quality marketing and design initiatives applied to everything from logos to collateral and streetscape elements.
WEDC contributed $459,529 toward a $31 million redevelopment project including housing, retail and a health care facility on the former Bancroft Dairy site. The dairy plant had closed 10 years prior, and the 1.64-acre site had residual soil contamination, which required disposal and capping.
The vacant 27-acre Royster Clark property was assembled and targeted for a mixed-use development. Remediation costs for the former fertilizer manufacturing site were in excess of $4 million, including demolition of structures and extensive soil work. WEDC contributed $400,000 toward these costs. The project later received an additional $534,000 in Idle Sites Redevelopment Grant funding as part of the $50 million development phase.