City Council approves application for Wisconsin Main Street Program

Downtown Near LakeAt Wednesday night’s Common Council meeting, the Council approved a resolution to support the city of Kenosha’s application to the State of Wisconsin Main Street Program, which is a state program that will provide help with ongoing efforts to improve the downtown area.  The resolution to submit the application was approved by a roll call vote of 13 to 0.  (Four alderpersons were not in attendance on Wednesday night:  Alderpersons Patrick Juliana, Tod Ohnstad, Rocco LaMacchia, and Jesse Downing.)

Alderperson Steve Bostrom asked director of community development and inspections, Jeff LaBahn, if it was necessary to make an application, and the answer was yes.  Alderperson Michael Orth said that this was similar to other designations the Common Council has applied for, like Bird City, etc.  Those also needed Common Council approval.  He wanted to know if a specific main street designation had already been made, and the reply was that it had not.  If the state approves it, there would be no further consideration at the local level required, said LaBahn.  Orth wanted to know where the funds would be directed, but there was no clear answer given.
According to Alderperson Chris Schwartz, “the Wisconsin Main Street Program is a comprehensive revitalization program designed to promote the historic and economic redevelopment of traditional business districts in Wisconsin.  It is managed by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which annually selects communities to join the program. These communities receive technical support and training needed to restore their Main Streets to centers of community activity and commerce.”

This designation will implement the “downtown development director” position as well as other strategic needs that are part of the Lakota Group Implementation Plan for downtown.  LaBahn said that the job is close to being posted for applicants.  He said that this would be an additional resource that would be available to that director.

There is an extensive application process, and part of the criteria was the resolution that passed this past Wednesday.  LaBahn said that applications for 2013 are due at the end of February, with selections to be announced in April.

If approved to participate, the city of Kenosha would receive five years of free training and technical assistance with specific downtown and urban neighborhood issues, such as marketing, business recruitment, volunteer development, and historic preservation.

LaBahn said that applying was one of the recommendations of the downtown study that the city and the Kenosha Area Business Alliance (KABA) commissioned last year.

To learn more about this program, check out their website:  Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation – Main Street Program.

According to its most recent annual report, Wisconsin Main Street operated in 38 communities during the 2011-12 fiscal year, aiding in the creation of 498 jobs, 160 business start-ups and $23.7 million in private investment.

The program, now administered by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the public-private entity that has replaced the former state Department of Commerce under Governor Scott Walker, began in 1987.

While the vast majority of the Main Street communities are in places with significantly smaller populations than Kenosha, downtown Green Bay has participated since 1995, and West Allis joined in 2001.  The program selects new communities to participate in the program each year.

Communities that join are eligible for training from Wisconsin Main Street staff, plus access to free historic building design assistance, free business counseling, and regular progress visits from state staff.

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