Mayville partners preserve history, enliven downtown
Revitalization spotlights historic charm
Mayville leaders had the vision to know that they were sitting on a historical treasure.
After 30 years of sluggish efforts to redevelop Mayville’s central commercial district, in 2018 they harnessed the power of partnership to inject new life into their downtown and restore its vibrancy.
The riverfront city, which traces its roots to the 1840s, has a proud history of commerce and innovation. It played an early role in the development of John Deere, cheese packaged into wedges, the shotshell reloader, and the aircraft carrier net.
Fortunately, Mayville clung to many of its historic buildings, which add a special charm to the downtown with their Queen Anne, Italianate, and Classical Revival architectural styles. Much of downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so preserving tradition while attracting investment was critical for the community.
“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.
Mayville’s downtown makeover began by bringing business, government and civic leaders to the table to share their vision and engineer a partnership that paid off.
A focus on creating a unique sense of place for this historic riverfront town has resulted in more than $2.8 million in private investment to renovate 15 district properties since 2018, even amid the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pulling together for Mayville’s future
Two initial WEDC Main Street Program technical assistance visits provided a framework for coordinating efforts, including a waterfront and public space plan and a marketing and branding toolkit.
Public-sector initiatives helped jump-start the effort, including the creation of a façade improvement program and a revolving loan fund to support private investment, incorporating bike and pedestrian trail improvements to coincide with recent road construction efforts, and enhancing the downtown gateway by installing interactive sculptural letters on a brownfield site.
Government partnered with the community to furnish and program the Mayville Park Square community plaza in the heart of downtown. Events held there attracted new energy downtown as local restaurants offered food specials for patrons headed for the square.
The local Rotary Club stepped up to fund pedestrian bridge lighting, enhancements to Mayville Square Park, and kayak and bike rentals.
Mayville’s placemaking efforts were recognized in 2023 when it won a prestigious award from the Mid-America Economic Development Council.
Of course, the renovation also required significant investment for redevelopment. The public-private alliance connected businesses and property owners to funding sources that helped leverage some large-scale projects.
These projects included a new home for the nonprofit Open Door Mayville. The nonprofit—which runs parenting, mental health, and youth programming—purchased and renovated a historic theater property to transform it into the Open Door Coffeehouse, an accessible gathering place.
A historic, long-vacant corner property lured a Minnesota pie maker to town. With grant funding, Sweet Pea’s Pies was able to include a retail storefront in its business plans.
One of the centerpieces of the redevelopment is the Albrecht School Apartments in the century-old former Mayville High School in the heart of downtown. Stalled three times in the last 309 years, the project is now moving ahead, having obtained a $250,000 Community Development Investment Grant through WEDC in 2022.
Local businesses were also able to tap into funding opportunities, including nearly $60,000 in local façade grants, $5,000 in Kiva matching funds to help open the retail element of Sweet Pea’s Pie, and $30,000 in Main Street Bounceback Grants to open three new businesses in formerly vacant Main Street spaces.
In addition, Fred’s Beds and More won WEDC’s statewide Main Street Makeover Contest, an honor that includes $10,000 to help renovate and merchandise the growing furniture shop.
“Mayville just literally greeted us with open arms and never quit. They want you to make it. They want Mayville to grow. The community is our cheerleader.”
New energy brings investment, success
The momentum of Mayville’s redevelopment renewed the attraction of the historic downtown as a business destination—and its placemaking efforts established it as a visitor destination, as well.
The iconic Ruedebusch Building was purchased by out-of-town investors and a salon bought and renovated the town’s historic newspaper offices. The historic Audubon Inn, with its striking Queen Anne-style architecture and domed turret, now has new owners.
Rachel Smith and her husband, Kyle, who own Sweet Pea’s Pies, set up shop downtown with the help of a $31,000 Community Development Investment Grant.
“Mayville just literally greeted us with open arms and never quit,” Rachel Smith said. “They want you to make it. They want Mayville to grow. The community is our cheerleader.”
At Fred’s Beds and More, a team from WEDC and a Milwaukee design firm worked with owners Jeff and Janine Andes to create a new look for the furniture and home décor store.
“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.”
Errin Welty, WEDC’s senior downtown development director, says fostering a sense of community identity and creating a place where people feel welcome is critical to a successful downtown revitalization.
“As a small community, Mayville understands that this unique sense of place is an important part of why people choose to visit or live in the community. Allowing visitors to the district to spend time, engage with others, and share experiences is what makes a place memorable,” she said.
And Andres Lezama and his wife Lindsey, who are behind the Albrecht School Apartments development, pointed to the importance of preserving history and tradition. As work began on the project, Lezama found his grandmother’s $1,000-a-year teaching contract from 1926.
“You can’t really put a price on that—to be able to preserve that history and breathe new life into it, it’s definitely a blessing,” he said.
AT A GLANCE
Mayville downtown redevelopment
Jump-start a long-running effort to redevelop a historic downtown district
Technical and financial assistance provided through a variety of WEDC programs
A coordinated approach successfully attracting business and investment—and giving downtown a cohesive sense of place
WEDC Community Development Investment Grant program