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Thiensville considers, then holds off state's Main Street program

Time, cost and other requirements too steep at this time

Jan. 8, 2013

Thiensville - While Thiensville could eventually participate in a statewide program designed to spruce up historic downtowns, officials have decided to concentrate most of their efforts locally in the immediate future.

Representatives from the state Economic Development Corporation's Wisconsin Main Street Program came before the Village Board on Monday with an overview of the initiative and how it might benefit Thiensville.

The village's downtown thoroughfare - appropriately named Main Street - has been the subject of scrutiny and revitalization efforts in recent years. Several buildings have been purchased and razed, with future redevelopment projects on the horizon. Participation in the Main Street program has more recently been broached as efforts continue.

Dozens of Wisconsin communities - including the village of Pewaukee, city of Port Washington and city of West Allis - have tapped the resources of the Wisconsin Main Street Program in an effort to receive expertise in planning a number of initiatives that could spruce up historic downtown districts.

"We don't come into town with suitcases full of money," said Jim Engle, who manages the state program. "But we do provide the technical assistance and offer partnerships."

Program requires a director

Municipalities participating in the Main Street program need to adhere to a number of sets of criteria, including staffing a director who oversees what is largely a volunteer-driven effort. Larger communities are required to have a full-time director, but a municipality the size of Thiensville could have one on a part-time basis.

Most municipalities are part of the program for a five-year period, though it is structured in such a way that membership can extend beyond the time frame.

The program's efforts fall into one of four categories: organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring. Main Street experts and local volunteers would work together and tackle such issues as facade improvements on older buildings and developing promotional activities designed to draw locals and tourists to the shopping district.

Funding causes concern

Participation in the program requires time and money - an investment of resources that prompted the board not to make a firm commitment while deliberating on the issue Monday.

In Thiensville, the cost to be part of the effort would likely hover around $40,000 and could come from a number of sources. Before any firm decisions are made, officials also would need to take part in a lengthy application process that would require a large amount of time and effort.

"There are some interesting things in the program that are attractive to me, but I'm not sure if it's the right fit for Thiensville," Trustee Kim Beck said. "I do think it's a wonderful program, and I can think of all kinds of communities that would benefit from this."

Another sticking point in participation is the local efforts already under way to revitalize Main Street. For example, the village has a Business Renaissance Committee that is comprised of several trustees, business owners and other members of the community.

While questions about participation loom, there was consensus among the board that participation in the immediate future would not be prudent. The 2013 application deadline is in late February.

"To do this in eight weeks would be brutally difficult," Trustee David Lange said of the application process.

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