Downtown BeloitWI e1509119370715

Beloit, Wisconsin – Central Business District

Main Streets 2017: Wisconsin

Downtown BeloitWI e1509119370715
Bushel and Pecks
Downtown Beloit event Jim Simonson
Downtown BeloitWI e1509119370715 Bushel and Pecks Downtown Beloit event Jim Simonson

A much-discussed idea among people who promote downtown vitality today is the “creative economy.” That’s the notion that the arts, and people who do creative work, are vital contributors to a community’s economic well-being. Explore this college town’s Central Business District and you’ll see this idea in successful action.

Beloit was once a strong industrial and manufacturing city, but by the 1980s, its vitality had been drained by the loss of those jobs and the rise of suburban mall shopping. In 1987, a group of businesspeople, property owners and citizen volunteers created the Downtown Beloit Association, aiming to revive the central district just above the Rock River and the Illinois border.

Since then, “Beloit’s downtown has reinvented itself as an arts destination, evidenced by abundant public art, galleries, theaters and, as locals will boast, live music every night of the week,” said Main Street America, an initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which gave Beloit a Great American Main Street Award in 2011.

That’s not the only honor this revitalized downtown has earned. It was also named one of “America’s Greatest Main Streets” by Travel + Leisure magazine; and in 2017, the National Trust returned to call Beloit’s downtown one of the nation’s “Five Romantic Main Streets You’ll Adore.” Property values here have risen by 192 percent since the Downtown Beloit Association began its work, according to Main Streets America.

The downtown revival begins along the river, where a once-industrial waterfront has been transformed into a mecca for boaters, strollers and picnickers. Sculptures and murals enliven the riverside, which has pocket parks, a bike trail, a canoe/kayak launch, some 120 hanging flower baskets, and 31 planters. Within the central downtown, the old Woolworth’s building has been restored and is now Bushel & Peck’s Local Market, a local food mecca. The renovation of the historic Hotel Hilton into apartments and a bookstore won a “Best Historic Renovation” award from the Wisconsin Main Street Program.

Downtown has over a dozen locally owned restaurants and cafes, along with bookstores, museums, art galleries and venues for live theater. More than 50 public events each year help to energize the business district. An ArtsWalk displays the work of more than 100 artists, and from May through October, more than 90 vendors bring their wares to the Saturday morning Farmers’ Market.

Today’s downtown feels like a friendly neighborhood, enlivened by the creative energies that come to life here every day.

Photo credits (L-R): Jason Dean, Mark Preuschl, Jim Simosnon
Beloit, WI is home to two 2016-17 LifeChangers: David Wilson and Gina Curtis

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Madison, Wisconsin – State Street

Main Streets 2016: Wisconsin

From the leafy green campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison to the imposing granite dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol, State Street is the heart of this Midwestern city. It’s book-ended by those institutions and lined with lively restaurants and cafes, and with locally operated businesses that form the core of one of America’s most energized, appealing communities.

State Street is dedicated to personal interaction. It has wide sidewalks for pedestrians and cafes, and traffic along the two-lane street is restricted to buses, bicycles and deliveries. Businesses that range from the local to the international cater to the diverse population that calls Madison home, from university students and state government workers to employees of the numerous technology, biotech, insurance, research and other companies that have their headquarters or major facilities here.

Even though this is one of the nation’s 100 largest cities, Madison’s downtown maintains its sense of community, and State Street is at the heart of that. On Saturday mornings in the summer, the Dane County Farmers’ Market takes over the area around the Capitol Square. Featuring sellers of fresh local produce, meats, cheeses, and other regional products, this is the country’s largest producers-only farmers’ market.

Wednesday evenings feature free concerts by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra on the capitol’s lawn — and the third weekend of every July, Maxwell Street Days stretches all along State Street. It’s described as Madison’s oldest and largest sidewalk-sale event and draws as many as 30,000 people. Every Halloween, Freakfest is a more structured, tamer version of the State Street Halloween Party of previous years.

The Overture Center for the Arts is down the street from the Capitol. As its name suggests, this is the place to go for arts and entertainment in Madison. There are ten resident companies, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera and the Madison Ballet.

There are plenty of spaces along State Street for more informal gatherings, from Library Mall at the University of Wisconsin campus to Capitol Square at the Capitol, which hosts everything from food carts to political rallies. There’s always something to do in Madison, largely because there’s so often something to do, enjoy or discover on State Street.

All photos courtesy of Madison Central  BID

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