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.
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 $250,000 toward the $1.3 million renovation of the long-vacant building at 531 North Main Street. The building will now house the headquarters of DealerFire, a web design and internet marketing firm, while simultaneously creating an incubator/co-working space to foster additional entrepreneurial development in the city. The firm expanded as part of the move, adding 123 additional jobs and investing an additional $1 million in equipment and training.
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.