The 2019 annual State of the Downtown event drew a record crowd of business owners and residents who learned how entrepreneurship and well-orchestrated plans are the driving forces behind the growth of the city’s central business district.
“Kenosha’s downtown is retro and cool. It’s a great destination,” Heather Wessling Grosz, the outgoing president of Downtown Kenosha Inc., told an audience of 250 who attended the evening event at the Stella Hotel & Ballroom. “The more we appreciate downtown, the more valuable it becomes.”
One of the city’s values is the newly-designed Stella, 5706 Eighth Ave., that grew out of the dilapidated shell that once was the Heritage House. The building also previously served as the center for the Elks Club. It was renovated and expanded by Gorman & Company, honored Wednesday with the 2018 Best Preservation Project award for its work on the hotel.
Other 2018 award winners included Judy Rossow, owner of the Copy Center for being the most influential business owner; Erik Bedore as the Volunteer of the Year; and Maria Caravati, owner of the Equinox for the best facade.
DKI, one of Wisconsin’s 40 designated Main Street communities, administered several programs that produced record results in 2018.
The facade improvement grant program, for example, raised $52,000, dispersed $33,675 and has had 44 applicants who have used program funds to make improvements to their storefronts, according to statistics released by DKI.
Keynote speaker Lyneir Richardson, chief executive officer of Chicago Trend, a resource for real estate developers, retailers and community development organizations, detailed some of his experiences helping businesses find funding for promoting development in Newark, N.J., and Chicago.
He noted that entrepreneurs could be the strength behind community development. Richardson told the audience that Kenosha is the place that can enable creativity, entrepreneurial ideas and innovation.
Richardson said that Kenosha has all of the ingredients to successfully transition to the next stage of its downtown development, its “warm launch,” he said.
County Executive Jim Kreuser, touting the city’s successful downtown transition, said, “In the county, the economic engine is downtown Kenosha.”
Mayor John Antaramian outlined how various events have brought more people into the city, some of whom might not have come several years ago. He talked about the creation of HarborPark and noted that the future will bring a performing arts center and much more.
Antaramian explained that the new developments have come from well-carried out plans. “Without a plan nothing happens,” he explained. “It only happens when people work together. Kenosha is a diamond.”
He noted that downtown grows because “downtown Kenosha starts with entrepreneurs.”