Jan 19, 2014

Beloit’s downtown continues evolution

Excerpted from Janesville Gazette
by Jim Leute

Rod Gottfredsen vividly recalls the day in 1986 when he and seven other people met in his one-chair barbershop in downtown Beloit.

The topic at hand was the state of downtown.

“Not only were some of the buildings without upstairs windows that pigeons were flying in and out of, but many of the lower windows were boarded up as well,” Gottfredsen said. “Things were looking pretty shabby.”

Gottfredsen, owner of Austin’s Barber Shop at 316 State St., helped form a Business Improvement District that launched downtown Beloit on its road to recovery.

Surveying the downtown landscape nearly three decades later, Gottfredsen is simple with his assessment: “I’m elated.”

Much of Gottfredson’s excitement can be traced to several ongoing and recent projects in downtown Beloit.
It would be an overstatement to say Beloit is rejuvenating or revitalizing its downtown. It started that process more than 25 years ago when it was one of the first communities in Wisconsin accepted into the state’s Main Street program.

What’s happening instead in Beloit is a continuing evolution that observers say is necessary to keep the downtown relevant.

“It’s an ongoing process,” said Shauna El-Amin, executive director of the Downtown Beloit Association, a collaboration of property owners, business people and community volunteers committed to Beloit’s central business district.

The last of the most significant vacancies—a stretch of East Grand Avenue that was once home to Wagner’s Office Supply and other businesses­—was demolished last year.

Under construction in its place is the Phoenix Building, a four-story retail and apartment project of nearly 40,000 square feet. The first floor will be a mix of offices, retail and restaurants. The top three floors will include 27 market-rate apartments.

The Phoenix Building is a project of Hendricks Commercial Properties, a Beloit-based company that manages and owns more than 15 million square feet of real estate properties in 39 states. Diane Hendricks, co-founder of ABC Supply, owns the company.

“This is a very enjoyable project in our own backyard,” said Rob Gerbitz, the real estate company’s president and chief operating officer. “A lot of times, us building a Wal-Mart somewhere is about making money.

“A project like this is a long-term investment in the community, and Diane has been adamant that we think long-term when it comes to Beloit.”

Andrew Janke is now Beloit’s economic development director. Back in the late 1980s, he held El-Amin’s position with the downtown association.

“Back when we started this and became one of the five inaugural Main Street communities, we understood it would be long-term process,” Janke said. “We weren’t expecting a home run with one or two projects.

“We understood that to be successful it would take time and be something that needs continual attention, and that’s proven to be the case. That’s a testament to the support of downtown business owners, volunteers, board and committee members, as well as the support of the city.”

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