Recent vacancies on Waupaca’s Main Street mean some business owners are concerned about downtown’s future.
Brennan Kane, the city’s development director, heard those concerns.
As a result, a downtown business forum was held Monday, Sept. 15, at Farmers State Bank.
“We know our downtown is one of our economic engines,” Kane told the approximately 35 business and property owners in attendance.
He said the city’s recently approved economic development strategic plan includes downtown and small business development.
Kane described this week’s forum as a kickoff meeting. He plans to survey those who attended the Sept. 15 meeting and ask them to set priorities before another meeting is set.
“You have some great momentum going already,” said Naletta Burr, of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
Before joining the WEDC, she was the director of Green Bay’s Broadway District and also did private consulting.
Burr presented information about the best practices of downtown redevelopment and said, “Downtown is the single most import factor of defining who you are as a community. It’s an important signifier of what matters to a community.”
She said Waupaca’s Main Street has a lot going for it, with its quaint feeling and historic facades.
There are opportunities for streetscape and signage development, Burr said.
Those are among the topic’s being discussed by the city’s Main Street Visioning Committee, as part of the future reconstruction of Main Street.
Burr said the city needs to define its approach and vision for downtown, build a team to champion it, then coordinate, communicate and celebrate.
“Not doing anything is disinvestment,” she said.
The best and most sustainable approach to redevelopment is a multi-faceted one, according to Burr.
The singular or “build it and they will come” approach was often used in building conference centers or downtown malls, she said.
Typically, that is not the most sustainable approach, Burr said.
“Waupaca was a Main Street program,” she said. “This approach is still the most sustainable. You are controlling your destiny. It is community based.”
A community’s Main Street needs an organizational structure, marketing efforts, business recruitment and retention, design and events, Burr said.
People need six reasons to visit a community, she said.
Burr also said clothing stores, restaurants and jewelry store always do better when they are clustered next to each other.
When there are vacancies, the first question to ask is why is it vacant, she said.
Some buildings may not be leasable because the roof leaks or it has a bad storefront.
Burr says the majority of problems can be solved with better communication and that the development tools include zoning, comprehensive plans, design guidelines, incentives, a market analysis, funding mechanisms and a Business Improvement District.
In addition to the Main Street Program, the WEDC also offers a relatively new program called Connect Communities.
“A number of communities that are no longer in the Main Street Program are now in this,” she said.
There are also grant opportunities, including the Community Development Investment Grant, and historic tax credits, Burr said.
Terri Schulz, president of the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce, was also a presenter at Monday evening’s forum.
When concerns about downtown vacancies were brought to her attention, she thought the first step should be a survey.
The Chamber sent the survey to its members, as well as to those on its community mailing list. A link to the survey was also posted on its Facebook pages.
There were about 140 responses thus far, she told the group.
The survey included eight questions, including how often people shop here, what they purchase, what they like about the shopping area, what is missing and what prevents them from shopping in Waupaca.
Schulz said the questions addressed the entire shopping area, including King.
Fifty-four of the respondents said they shop in Waupaca on a weekly basis.
They buy groceries, household products, gifts, convenience items and personal care items.
They like the convenience, friendly people, personal service, unique shops and fact they know the business owners, Schulz said.
When asked what would encourage them to shop here more, respondents most often said an increase in the hours stores are open, some type of a department store, more sales, variety, better prices and more stores.
Schulz said those who responded said what Waupaca is missing the most are a men’s clothing store, a shoe store and Wal-Mart.
Burr said the next step for the community’s downtown district is figure out what needs to happen to address the concerns.