First impressions of Weyauwega
Downtown development discussed
By James Card
A group of city development professionals from all over Wisconsin converged in Weyauwega last week to pick apart the town—in a good way, and offer constructive criticism on things that need some fixing.
City Administrator Jeremy Schroeder organized and hosted the event. The discussion was led by Joseph Lawniczak, a downtown design specialist with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).
One of the programs that WEDC operates is Main Street and Connect Communities, which focuses on downtown revitalization. Weyauwega is one of 74 towns participating in the program.
The workshop’s theme was “first impressions” and the participants were given homework before arriving in Weyauwega. They were tasked to research Weyauwega from the perspective of a weekend visitor and as an entrepreneur looking for a downtown storefront.
Upon arrival in Weyauwega, they did a walking tour of the downtown district and shops with business owners and took photos and notes. After a half day of scouting around town, they converged at city hall to discuss their first impressions.
First discussed was their pre-trip homework. One common problem was that most of Weyauwega’s highlights could be discovered with some online digging but they were competing with Waupaca County’s other destinations.
It was noted that on some websites where Weyauwega was the keyword, the search results would highlight things to do in Waupaca, New London and other nearby places.
The general consensus was that online resources were thin for business owners.
Online impressions were that Weyauwega is a safe community with great schools and a good place to raise a family, but it would be helpful to a prospective entrepreneur to have more resources to navigate to the complexities of opening a business.
Also the real estate listings of available commercial properties were hard to find. But upon their walking tour, they came across some vacant storefronts. This was puzzlin because absentee owners pay taxes on their buildings yet let the buildings sit idle.
Mayor Jack Spierings pointed out an old empty building with beautiful stonework architecture. He said the city has tried to contact the owners many times over the years by registered mail sent to a trust overseen by a law firm. There has never been a reply.
“I didn’t get the vibe of not wanting to open a business here; I was on the opposite side. I would actually look at doing something here because there seems to be opportunity. There are vacant storefronts—yes. When I was looking I noticed there were no cafes. I would come here and open a café,” said Dave Kittel, a community development director from Little Chute.
Everybody in the room agreed. They also agreed that Weyauwega’s natural resources could be better leveraged as a key asset, primarily the Weyauwega Lake and the Waupaca River.
Weyauwega has a rare position where both the lake and river is only a brief walk from Main Street but some found there was a disconnect between the two.
“I think that is the most under-utilized part of this town. It is being right on the water and not seeing it. It brings such a quaint charm to a village or a small town when you can see the expanse of water,” said Dawn Girdt from Mayville. “Not just barely catching a glimpse through a tree. Get that view to the water. That’s what sends it home for people as they’re coming through. It makes you want to stop and stay and look at the sparkling water.”
Lawniczak pointed out the art deco architecture style of the Weyauwega Star Dairy building. It was once an auto dealership and a service sign still hangs out back. People find such old signs charming and it preserves the community history.
Some participants were enamored with the vintage Maytag sign that hangs behind the Glory Dayz Boutique.
Participants also liked that from U.S. Highway 10, a motorist can be on Main Street in minutes. As a bonus, there is plenty of downtown parking.
They thought the downtown alleys that could be transformed into inviting walkways with murals and better lighting and that the horse-head hitching posts and the metal horse-drawn carriage sculptures on the light poles were a classy touch and a nod to the town’s horse-and-buggy heritage.
They found Weyauwega has a rich community history and there is a pride in ownership throughout the residential streets.