Welcomed into the Connect Communities program in 2014, La Farge has already made strides to formalize its downtown revitalization effort. Beginning with a strategic planning effort facilitated by the Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission, the community has also created a dedicated nonprofit entity (La Farge Area Progress Association); introduced streetscape elements including banners, holiday lighting and vacant window displays; created a local business brochure; and jumpstarted recreation planning activities. Located near multiple regional recreation attractions and suffering from an underutilized riverfront area in the wake of floodplain demolition, La Farge created a new 15-acre park, raising funds to install a fishing pier and disc golf course. The community is also leveraging local partnerships to support entrepreneurs, fill downtown vacancies and accommodate resident and visitor shopping and dining interests.
WEDC provided $205,000 toward a $1.4 million project to completely renovate a vacant downtown property to help an existing business, The Coffee House at Chestnut & Pine, expand, while also adding space for a new bakery, a meeting space/event venue and a commercial kitchen, with a combined 10 additional employees. The renovated building has become an anchor for the growing downtown revitalization effort, spurring developer interest in a long-vacant parcel on the same block for an $800,000 investment to create co-working space. The coffeehouse itself is now the top ranked business in the City of Burlington and has been featured in multiple publications, driving additional tourism activity.
WEDC contributed $200,000 towards a $5.6 million project to convert a contaminated 2.5-acre riverfront site into 33 units of affordable housing. The project also received TIF financing from the city, which also spent $192,000 to acquire several parcels to assemble the site. Former uses included automotive and manufacturing. Remediation included the removal and disposal of 1,694 tons of soil contaminated with arsenic, lead, benzene and PAHS, and the introduction of backfill and an asphalt cap on portions of the property.
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.