Wisconsin Rapids Welcomed into State’s Downtown Revitalization Program
Back in January of 2014, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) took note of the important role that downtowns and historic commercial districts play in their communities, and in Wisconsin’s overall economy. They also understood the significance the “Main Street” program has played in Wisconsin communities since its inception in 1987. But in our case and others, taking on the full fledged responsibilities of the Main Street program is a feat. As a result, WEDC developed the Connect Communities Program as way to provide local civic leaders with access to resources and networking opportunities to start and maintain a district revitalization effort. A pathway, of sorts, to becoming primed for participation in the Main Street program. Since the program launched, participating communities have reported adding 175 net new businesses and more than 500 jobs, as well as $30 million in private investment.
I am pleased to report that WEDC today officially recognized the City of Wisconsin Rapids as just one of 18 communities around the state to be accepted into the Connect Communities Program this year. Applicants for this recognition were tasked with explaining the type of activities or assistance that they hope to undertake, as well as identify a local team that will be responsible for carrying out activities and participating in program events and training.
Among items presented to WEDC, Wisconsin Rapids shared details of the initiative under way to develop preliminary designs for enhancements to public spaces along the urban section of Riverbank. Residents were able to view early design concepts and alternatives at Lunch by the River on July 2.
The Connect Communities initiative goes beyond mere lip service. It provides Wisconsin Rapids with access to a variety of resources and training, including:
- A Network to get new ideas from staff and other participating Connect Communities;
- On-site visits from WEDC Community Development staff to assist in identifying needs and offering assistance;
- Training opportunities for leadership and staff; and
- Access to WEDC’s downtown development online library, and to specially developed resources and training materials.
We are proud that Wisconsin Rapids has been selected by the Connect Communities Program. This designation validates the vision shaped by years of local support – from the planning of civic leaders from years past down to our present day, to the interest and suggestions of everyday community residents. With continued engagement from our citizens, our involvement with Connect Communities will help us to leverage the unique assets of our Downtown Riverbank district.
Reinventing Our Future – The Time Is Now
Our City’s selection for inclusion in the State’s Connect Communities Program reaffirms points I made in an op-ed Column published last Saturday in the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, regarding the importance of reinvigorating our City’s Riverbank area. (The Column will also appear in this weekend’s edition of the Wisconsin Rapids City Times).
In this article, I detailed the ways in which Wisconsin Rapids has begun a public effort to recognize and identify the potential return on public investments in one of our most precious resources – the Wisconsin River. These initiatives included developing preliminary designs for enhancements to our public spaces along the urban section of Riverbank; and developing specifications and attaching cost estimates to some of the already identified. planned and resident-inspired improvements. In a few short weeks, we will again engage with our consultant as they further define the preliminary designs of the public waterfront.
As mentioned in my 2015 State of the City Address this past February, the time is now for the city to reinvent the place we live, work, dine and entertain … and to reimagine and transform our local economy into one that is more diverse, and continuously attracts investment and talented, entrepreneurial people.
To read the full text of my op-ed piece, please follow this link.
Thanks for reading,
Mayor Zach Vruwink