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Memo to LAIC: Update Physical and Virtual Main Street Storefronts

My wife and I lament the pitiable state of many building façades in downtown Madison. Too many of the storefronts have tacked up tacky plastic and metal signs over

The Lake Area Improvement Corporation mostly ignores downtown. They briefly touted, then cold-dropped a Main Street and More! program that achieved nothing. The LAIC is apparently too busy pouring money into insider deals for housing developments and its federally subsidized industrial park on the edge of town. The LAIC's only demonstrated interest in building downtown came in its involvement in the real-estate shell game that has led to big ICAP move, which is another example of Madison's reliance on government handouts and socialism.

If the LAIC can't be bothered to promote real downtown renovation and capitalist opportunities, maybe we can arouse their interest in a little virtual downtown renovation. Mike Knutson at the Rural Learning Center discovers a really cool economic development project undertaken by the smart people in Ord, Nebraska. Since 2007, the Ord Chamber of Commerce has offered its downtown businesses $5000 no-interest loans to put toward fixing up their storefronts. Now the Ord Chamber is expanding the acceptable use of those loans to support updating online storefronts.

The Ord Chamber explains the new program on their blog (their blog, Dwaine. Their blog.). The program doesn't rely on a big federal handout. It got rolling when a local bank applied for an won a $25,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Topeka.

The LAIC loves signs and façades; our economic developers should be all over a project that makes our downtown look better on the street and online. How about we raise $25,000 for a physical and virtual storefront renovation loan program this way: For every dollar us regular folks contribute, the LAIC will match with a dollar taken out of LAIC exec's Dwaine Chapel's $100K-plus salary. We could redirect $12,500 from unaccountable salary to real Main Street improvements... and Chapel would still be one of the best-paid Brookings commuters in town.

p.s.: The Dakota Drug building, one of the best-located retail properties on Madison's main street, has been on the market for two months. $99,900 gets you two stories and 6800+ square feet of prime retail opportunity. As of this morning, the LAIC still has not added this choice property to its Available Properties webpage.


  1. Michael Black 2010.12.05

    I was downtown in Madison shopping yesterday, three weeks before Christmas. The stores were deserted. Easily half of the parking places were open. I saw one other person walking on the sidewalk.

    This is supposed to be the busy shopping season.

  2. C Francis 2010.12.05

    The Ord, Nebraska (they've been doing some cool things) program seems like a relatively easy one to follow for us in Madison(5,000 loan, 0% interest) Maybe we could even add a % kickback for incentive, say 10% back or something to make it more of a draw for both the virtual and physical projects to start.

    We could also look at promoting some zero-interest loans and even grants for specific downtown projects and business start-ups. I think we may have a program at the LAIC for that, but I'm not sure of specifics.

    Another idea mentioned by RLC was a small business incubator building, and perhaps that's a good fit for the former Dakota Drug property.

  3. Kristy 2010.12.05

    Brookings has a wonderful downtown. One could easily spend an afternoon there and not get bored. I was at a Sioux Falls Hy-Vee tonight and when checking out I told the manager they really need to open a store in Madison and he said that 3 people from Madison had told him that today. He asked me if we had any kind of grocery store in Madison.

  4. GoldMan 2010.12.05

    It would make sense to use a portion of our second penny sales tax (I don't remember what it was designated for originally) toward a downtown improvement project. Maybe low 3% loans for infrastructure and exterior improvements. When you see what the Knology building looks like now, you can imagine how quaint our entire mainstreet could look like with some needed TLC. Perhaps the State GOED would have matching funds also. Maybe Dwaine will set up a meeting with downtown area businesspeople to discuss the possibilities.

  5. caheidelberger 2010.12.05

    Knology did a good job on that storefront! Makes me want to go in and buy cable!

  6. C Francis 2010.12.06

    Knowlogy did a downright great job with their property, kudos for those improvements.

    I was actually inside Knowlogy a few weeks back, the original tin ceiling was still there, and part of the newly revised design. Actually, the former Dakota Drug has a fantastic tin ceiling above the tile, and lots of windows, with flat maple floors too.

    Also, on a much bigger scale, East River has transformed their corner off Harth, with a modern and eco-friendly building. Honestly, it's probably the most impressive building project downtown has seen in many years (since the Madison Public Library renovations)

  7. Tony Amert 2010.12.06

    Are the downtown storefronts the real problem? Or, is it the content of the businesses?

    Small stores need to become boutiques that sell unique items that can't be found at big box stores. Their high overhead rates make competing with big box stores impossible.

  8. JohnSD 2010.12.06

    Yes it matters. It all matters and it's not just prices. People want an experience. As Kristy says, you can have a wonderful time in downtown Brookings. But if we have no anchors and people go elsewhere for staples (including groceries), there is absolutely no reason to shop Madison. They will go to Kohls, World Market, Big Lots, Walmart, Target, the mall, on and on. You have to keep people in town for the basics and then they will look for some other things. Right now, there are many reasons to go out of town for almost everything.

  9. caheidelberger 2010.12.07

    The appearance of our businesses, both downtown and online, has some relationship to their ability to impress and attract customers. But yes, offering goods and services of competitive value is more important.

    Analogy: my house. Guests will have a more enjoyable experience if I dust the bookshelf. Guests will have an even more enjoyable experience if I serve hot chocolate and keep the furnace working. A good host does all of those things.

  10. Caleb 2010.12.13

    To be fair, I'd take a big federal hand out if I could get one. BUT, we put our hat on self-determination first and foremost. We have a very robust sales tax program that helps us grow economic opportunity one small business or entrepreneur at a time.

    AND, blogging is both rad and a cheap/effective way for us to spread our message. Inaction by other communities is just opportunity for me.

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