With 44 projects initiated through the Façade Improvement Program, Marshfield’s downtown has revamped its look over the last several years
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Downtown Marshfield has undergone a transformation. Since 2009, 44 projects have been undertaken as part of Marshfield’s Façade Improvement Program to restore the luster to buildings in the heart of the city.
The program, which ran from 2009 to 2014, was funded via a 50/50 split in which the city of Marshfield and Main
Street Marshfield partnered with interested business owners to share the cost of restoring or improving store fronts. The businesses matched the funding offered by the city and in some cases went beyond that amount to complete additional renovations to the interior of their buildings.
The funds allotted by the city and Main Street Marshfield were strictly designated for improvements to the exterior
of the buildings. In sum, the city and Main Street Marshfield combined to contribute nearly $450,000 to the project in matching grant funds. When combined with what business owners spent on renovations, the total spent on improving the downtown area comes to just over $2.2 million.
For businesses to qualify for funding from the city, they filled out an application detailing their vision for the restoration. The city gave strong consideration to those projects that would help restore historic architecture and
represent an investment in the downtown area. Additionally, businesses looking to participate in the program were strongly encouraged to use local contractors to execute the renovations when possible.
Why and how the program got started
“We were looking for the ones that were going to do significant work, that were going to restore buildings. It wasn’t just changing out windows or adding a new door or awnings. We wanted physical improvements: Change the look, enhance the look, restore the look,” Angell said.
The roots of the Façade Improvement Program date back to 2007 and 2008 when the city worked on developing a strategic plan to help guide the vision for its future, part of which included addressing “quality of life” issues. A key goal within the strategic plan was to make Marshfield an attractive place to live for current residents and a destination for people of surrounding areas.
Downtown Marshfield was seen as an area of opportunity for “beautification efforts” that would make the area a
more attractive destination. The city saw rejuvenating downtown Marshfield as a way to add value to the community, refresh the historic character of the area, and foster new opportunities economically.
“If you want people to come to your community, the downtown is really the heart of your community. It really tells a great story to anybody that is looking to visit the community or is considering moving to the community,” said Angell.
Angell said when the program was first presented to the business community, the city thought they might receive a couple of interested businesses.
“We thought, ‘OK, if we got two projects, we’re going to be excited.’ We ended up getting eight (applications) right out of the gate,” Angell said.
The business owner’s perspective
The recently revamped Blodgett Häus, which houses the corporate headquarters of Browns Living in downtown Marshfield and aesthetically resembles the historic Blodgett Hotel, was a recent participant in the Façade Improvement Program.
Executive Vice President and a co-owner of Browns Living Christopher Howard, who, in addition to the Blodgett Häus owns a number of downtown locations including the Railroad Antique Mall, said the Façade Improvement Program allowed him to undertake renovations he otherwise would not have.
“We never would have done (the Railroad Antique Mall renovation) without the Façade Program. It would have sat there looking like it always had,” Howard said. “I think a lot of people would not have improved their facades without it.”
Shelley Babcock, who owns Merle Norman & The Day Spa Boutique, also participated in the program. Merle Norman removed an older façade from their building to expose the original brick underneath and replaced all of their first-level windows.
Babcock echoed Howard’s sentiments, saying she also would not have made the façade improvements without the matching funds from the city.
“I think the downtown area has such unique stores right now. We have a little bit of everything. We’ve got wonderful
varieties, wonderful business owners, and the appearance of the way our new main street looks … has just been such a huge improvement,” Babcock said. “For myself economically it was a lifesaver because it was something I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own right away.”
A model for other communities
Angell said that because of the success of the program, other communities have reached out to Marshfield and asked how it has accomplished the Façade Improvement Project.
“The city of River Falls informed us that they are actually using us as a model community, that they want to revitalize their downtown after our efforts,” Angell said.
The City of Marshfield and Main Street Marshfield received statewide recognition for the restoration of the downtown, winning the 2009 Wisconsin Main Street Award for best public-private partnership. A number of businesses also received honorable mention recognition for their façade rehabilitations.
Angie Eloranta, executive director of Main Street Marshfield, said the program has helped attract positive attention to the downtown area.
“We get people coming into Marshfield a lot that just are in awe of how much it’s improved in the past few years, and I think a lot of that has to do with the Façade Improvement Program,” Eloranta said. “I think people really took advantage of the program because we had that available, so they really jumped on board and took the opportunity to improve their buildings, which is exciting to see.”