WaunaBoom! A little town gets a big bump from new business
Excerpted from madison.com
By Lindsay Christians
A few years ago, Waunakee’s Main Street looked tired.
In 2014, a long-awaited $4 million reconstruction led by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation ripped up a mile’s worth of Main, from Holiday Drive on the west to Division Street on the east. Crews resurfaced and rebuilt the street. They added bike lanes, improved intersections, updated street lights and installed planters.
Even before the work was done, investors began to take notice.
Village administrator Todd Schmidt estimates that little Waunakee has seen more than $18 million in new private investment and reinvestment combined in the downtown area, all during the last two years.
About a quarter of new investment has been residential, notably a new 75-unit apartment complex at Madison and Main.
Then in mid-June, Lone Girl Brewing Company opened at 114 E. Main St., with a large main dining area, beer brewed on premise and a rooftop that seats some 100 people.
Along with new businesses have come new events, like a family-centric Fourth of July celebration called WaunaBoom, and Live from the Park, a summer concert series. Each Tuesday evening through July 26, bands play and food carts come to the Village Park Gazebo.
There are also new public art projects. Now in its second year, Barns on Main showcases the work of local artists on 15 metal barns lining the downtown street.
With cute shops, village-centric events and a focus on creativity, Waunakee is poised to become a small town destination.
Every day, some 16,600 cars drive along East Main Street, according to a 2015 traffic study by the Wisconsin DOT.
A commercial leakage study conducted last year reported that “Waunakee businesses seem to be capturing about 30 percent of the retail potential within the Waunakee area,” compared to 94 percent in Cottage Grove, 83 percent in McFarland and 69 percent in Oregon.
“It’s just shocking how much this community goes elsewhere to spend its money,” said Kevin Abercrombie, a co-owner of Lone Girl Brewing Company. “These numbers were important for us to realize that this was worth the investment.”
Lone Girl is among the most ambitious projects Waunakee has ever seen. A nearly 7,000-square-foot main floor includes a kitchen and keg room, and the rooftop patio seats 125 people.
“Others are going to come around us,” Abercrombie said. “And that’s great. The more the merrier — we become a destination, it helps everybody.”
Many of Waunakee’s new businesses were lured to the area by the efforts of two people: Todd Schmidt, who serves both as village administrator and economic development director, and Don Tierney, a developer and Waunakee native.
What’s next for Waunakee?
“Waunakee is a residential, family community. The board and plan commission plan to see very controlled growth at a Waunakee scale, smaller developments.”
The village wants more people to stay in town to shop and entertain themselves, true. But it doesn’t make sense to ignore the resources that are already there.
“We’re not creating a new mall to add to our regional economy or a new Greenway Station. Those exist and we can go there and enjoy them. The lines betwen Waunakee and other dense urban centers are not going to blur together — we’re going to be a unique, identifiable, special little place.”