Feb 2, 2017

Perfect storm: Mount Horeb is rapidly redeveloping

Excerpted from The Cap Times

By Lisa Speckhard

For the Mount Horeb’s sixth annual Scandihoovian Winter Festival, residents will don traditional Scandinavian nisse and tomte, pointy red hats, and participate in a spate of winter activities including snowshoeing, skiing, sleigh rides and the ever-popular frozen turkey bowling.

The activities are spread around Mount Horeb, but visitors to downtown will notice changes. The village is in the middle of a major transformation representing tens of millions of dollars of private investment.

A local volunteer organization helped make these and other downtown development projects a reality.

The recession hit Mount Horeb pretty hard, and it’s seen slow growth since then, said Brad Murphy, the former executive director of the Mount Horeb Area Economic Development Corporation. There were vacant buildings and buildings in need of updates and facelifts.

In 2012, about a dozen individuals decided to take it upon themselves to get the ball rolling for downtown revitalization. They formed their own volunteer, nonprofit economic development group: the Mount Horeb Area Economic Development Corporation (known as the EDC).

The EDC’s first major contribution didn’t actually take place downtown, Murphy said. Members started looking for investors to build a hotel, an effort that the village had been attempting for nearly three decades. Six months later, the EDC had found local investors to fund the $6 million GrandStay Hotel and Suites Mount Horeb, now open on Lillehammer Lane.

The hotel changed Mount Horeb from a day-trip destination into a weekend getaway, said Dave Hoffman, chair of the Downtown Revitalization Committee at the EDC.

In 2015, the EDC formed a downtown study committee to look at how other cities were surviving and building budding downtowns. They were especially interested Sun Prairie’s Cannery Square mixed-use development that had been funded by a Tax Incremental District. It led the committee to consider a TID of their own.

The village was willing, and implemented Tax Increment Financing in August 2016.

Property owners downtown were also willing. When the EDC met with them to discuss potential development, they were met with enthusiasm.

New businesses started popping up in 2016. The former Dick’s Meats turned into the Sunn Cafe, Madison’s Trail This Bicycle Shop started a second store in Mount Horeb and there’s a new retail store on Main Street called “McFee on Main.” The EDC helped them along.

What’s happened since is what Hoffman calls a “positive domino effect.”

If you look at the development that’s happened since the EDC was formed through to the development that’s likely to take place this year, you’re looking at about $50 million worth of investment, Murphy said.

It’s all happened quickly, surprising even those at EDC.

“Frankly, I’ve been surprised (at the pace),” Hoffman said. “There’s been a perfect storm of us communicating, willing property owners and a village that’s willing to come behind it and help private investment.”

He gives credit to the EDC, a unique village organization that’s focused solely on economic development. Many times, economic development falls to the village administrator, who has many other responsibilities, he said.

“A lot of this I’m convinced is constant, persistent, everyday attention to some form of economic development,” he said.

Read the full article.