PdC Main Street restrengthens focus on downtown businesses

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By Correne Martin

Prairie du Chien Downtown Revitalization Inc. dissolved in January of 2014. By October last year, a new entity, PdC Main Street, was conceived with a focus on re-establishing the efforts of economic recovery, historic preservation and promotion of downtown businesses. Since then, PdC Main Street has predominantly organized itself and worked to improve public esteem surrounding such a local main street program.

“We’ve spent the past year creating the organization, electing a board and officers, appointing committee chairs, finding volunteers and working on publicity,” PdC Main Street Chair Chris Mara stated. “All of that has taken time and effort. We’ve also spent the year trying to foster some good will and improve our worth in the eyes of the public. PDRI failed for a number of reasons we’ve come to understand, but we’ve tried to move forward.”

In late October 2014, the Prairie du Chien Common Council voted to hand over about $4,500 in former PDRI funds to PdC Main Street. The new group has been working off of those funds as well as some seed money from a number of core board members. Mara said those members figured they would have paid dues to PDRI if it had continued business and, since the new non-profit can’t have memberships, they directed those dollars in the form of donations toward PdC Main Street’s efforts.

“We’ve maintained about $5,000 to $6,000 in our bank account. We’ve gotten some donations toward specific projects we’ve done too,” Mara pointed out.

Furthermore, PdC Main Street has developed budgets, stakeholder and volunteer lists, a recurrent newsletter, a Facebook page, email blasts, and the beginnings of public outreach. “It’s all been volunteer driven and not that expensive,” Mara said.

The association has also conducted a number of projects this summer and fall to attract visitors to the downtown area, including downtown flowers and corn shuck decorations, PdC Palette wine and canvas nights, Zen doodle art workshops and a live music and a rootbeer float stand for the July American Queen stop.

“We organized for businesses to be open early that day and put together maps for the visitors,” Mara added. “One of the things we want is some more cultural events downtown. Our PdC Palette has been wildly successful, especially. These events not only bring people together but they also introduce them to our organization and make a little money.”

Though PDRI fell under the arm of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s Main Street Wisconsin program, the new PdC Main Street doesn’t expect that designation. Instead, it will be part of WEDC’s Connect Communities program. The key differences in the two is that Connect Communities organizations aren’t required to maintain a minimum program budget and they only need a part-time paid director (not full-time). The volunteer board members then take a more hands-on approach to their involvement.

Through Connect Communities, PdC Main Street pays just $200 in annual fees to receive an on-site visit from WEDC Community Development staff to assist in identifying and fulfilling community needs, an invitation to attend trainings for a fee, an invitation to regional roundtable discussion groups, inclusion in an online network of downtown development professionals, and the opportunity to nominate a local project for Wisconsin Main Street Awards.

“[Main Street Wisconsin] has more benefits but also a lot more requirements,” Mara said. “It might be difficult to find someone who will only work part-time but at least they won’t be spending a lot of their time fundraising for their own salary.” He noted that, with the retirement of Bob McDonald as the Prairie du Chien Economic Development director, someone could take on both positions.

“We feel it’s in the city’s best interest to have both an economic development corporation and a main street organization, and we believe one person could do a lot of good for both organizations,” he commented.

In addition to Mara, the PdC Main Street board consists of Vice-President Luanne Neumann, Secretary Marlene Dyer, Treasurer Beth Saddler, Kristina Linde, Christine Panka, M.J. Thornburg, Noelle Hill and Lou Davis.

As PdC Main Street continues moving forward, the board is looking for new ideas as well as additional volunteers and donations of “time, treasure or talent.”

“Instead of complaining, be a part of the solution,” Mara said.

In order to take the next step and continue its success, PdC Main Street is shifting its focus to fundraising.

“Our goal is to have a third come from fundraising, a third from businesses and a third from the city,” he said, noting that there is a city loan pool for things like business improvements and startups. “But the city wants to see some buy-in from the business community. Hopefully, people see the value in this. We need some sustaining support. Whatever we do, we’re doing for the entire downtown footprint, the heart and soul of our community, from river to bluff and a block either side of Blackhawk Avenue.”

To keep track of what PdC Main Street is doing, find them on Facebook. “We’re just a fun group of business people from downtown. You don’t have to be on the board to help either,” Mara stated.

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