FOND DU LAC — Fond du Lac is looking to make downtown more appealing for residents and visitors alike. The city council recently approved the city's grant application for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's "Vibrant Spaces" grant. This grant would give the city between $25,000 and $50,000 to develop a green space in the heart of downtown between the US Bank building and the library. City Manager Joe Moore said the city is planning to apply for the full $50,000, which the city will then match.
"We think that it will greatly enhance the vibrancy, but also the aesthetic of that area," Moore said.
Currently, there's only a small walkway next to the bank that connects to a parking lot.
"You walk out the library and you look over at US Bank and it's kind of little amorphous," City council president Patrick Mullen said. "It's not really welcoming in terms of, like, 'Oh, this is a place I can go.'"
The proposed green space will include a mini library and newsstand, picnic tables and food vendors, as well as connect the library to the rest of downtown.
"There might be times when parents want to be on Main Street and the kids are in the library, and this is just a reminder of how close in proximity those two are," Moore said.
Maeghan Thiessen-Greeno works at a bank downtown and thinks this could be a big benefit to businesses.
“One of the things or items of feedback that I've heard from people is that they really want to be able to spend more time in the downtown when they're here, whether it's, oh, I want to walk around and check out some of these shops and maybe grab a bite to eat, but then I want to be able to sit outside and really enjoy all of the scenery in a nice beautiful space,” Thiessen-Greeno said.
Another part of the city's efforts to support downtown comes from grants from the Downtown Fond du Lac Partnership. Executive Director Amy Hansen said the organization is giving out $220,000 in grants in 2023. Two new grants include the Experience Generator Grant Program and the Downtown Fond du Lac New Businesses Grant Program.
"The grant funds are specifically for startup costs," Hansen said. "So new equipment or if you need a POS system or fixtures, or if you need to do some renovations. It really gives a new business owner a little bit of a leg up in order to get started."
Thiessen-Greeno says she’s helped multiple businesses access this money.
“As a new business, any and every available possible grant program or assistance is … a benefit to them, like every little bit helps,” Thiessen-Greeno said.
The Downtown Fond du Lac Partnership new business grant applications are live now, but the money from the state to fund the green space may not come for another several months, and final costs are uncertain.
“Estimates have been really dodgy the last year or so because of shortages of materials, you know, hiring concerns,” Mullen said.
City officials say both grant projects are part of a continuing effort to support downtown development.