Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
March 2004
Old Buildings Find New Life
Giving new life to old buildings, also known as "adaptive reuse," has come to the rescue of several Wisconsin communities, and Department of Commerce officials are hopeful that it is a growing trend in the state.

Of all of the negatives associated with urban sprawl, perhaps the most glaring is what to do with abandoned buildings in downtown areas. Communities throughout the U.S. have struggled with the problem, and fortunately, many have found a viable solution in the form of adaptive reuse of buildings.

One shining example of the practice is the new $5 million CentraliaA vacant Wal-Mart store in Wisconsin Rapids has been transformed into a multi-agency resource center. Center in Wisconsin Rapids. With the help of a $750,000 federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) administered through Commerce’s Bureau of Community Finance, a vacant Wal-Mart store in the city has been transformed into a multi-agency resource center focused on the needs of senior citizens. Consolidation of three senior resource agencies – the Lowell Senior Center, the Aging Resource Center of Wood County, and Park Place Adult Day Services - combines education, activities and services into a one-stop facility.

Notes Tony Hozeny, Department of Commerce communications director, "Whenever you can take a vacant facility, particularly in a downtown area, and restore it for productive use, it’s a good thing. This project not only replaces a vacancy in the downtown, but it helps better meet the needs of the people.

"With services scattered throughout a community, it’s a hardship for residents. Consolidation of services is something we’ve seen in a number of projects we’ve been involved with."

"The Wisconsin Rapids project was over a decade in the making," says Jeff Conradt, chairman of the Wood County Department of Aging. "This is a huge accomplishment, when you look back at what the community and seniors did over the past 13 years. People had this vision for a center with all agencies together and they literally started counting their pennies toward a facility that cost millions."

The Wood County Department of Aging is the agency in Wood County that provides programs and services to meet the needs and to enhance the lives of older adults throughout the county.

Although the market value of the abandoned building was $1.2 million, Wal-Mart officials agreed to sell it to the city for $400,000. The Commerce grant, combined with $800,000 from capital campaign fundraising, a $50,000 Wood County Department of Aging contribution, and $1.82 million in general obligation bonds, covered the $3.4 million cost of purchasing and renovating the senior citizen portion of the 44,600-sq.-ft. facility.

The new $5 million Centralia Center in Wisconsin Rapids.The majority of the building, (29,100 square feet), comprises the senior center, while the remaining 15,500 square feet is lease space. Current tenants include: Montessori of Central Wisconsin, Inc., Riverview Health Promotion Center, Miracle Ear, Ministry Home Care Hospice and River Cities Community Access. Project coordinators are pleased with the initial mix of tenants, which they note are complementary to the three anchor tenants.

"All in all," says Sandra Herfel, the Commerce grants specialist who worked with Wisconsin Rapids on the project, "the end result is a ‘win, win’ situation for everyone. The City was able to take an abandoned building and put it back on the tax roll and the senior citizens have well-equipped, comfortable, inviting space where they can tend to social, recreational, business and health needs.

Adaptive reuse projects may be looked on favorably in the future, particularly those that are regional and/or multi-use in nature. For more information about utilizing CDBG funds for public facilities, contact Jim Frymark, Director of the Bureau of Community Finance, at (608) 266-2742 or jfrymark@commerce.state.wi.us.

--Barbro McGinn

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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