Bank offers business loan program to West Bend
Proposal focuses on downtown, Barton areas

By DAVE RANK - Daily News

August 16, 2014

WEST BEND - A local bank wants to start a low-interest business loan program in West Bend directed to development in the historic downtown and Barton commercial districts.

The West Bend Common Council will decide Monday on accepting the development loan program offered by First Bank Financial Centre, which has a branch office at 1811 W. Washington St.

The loan program would be offered through the city’s Department of Development, First Bank Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Nate Zastrow said Friday from the financial center’s headquarters in Oconomowoc.

“We make the lending decision and the community makes the decision on parameters,” Zastrow said. “The city doesn’t have to be the bank.”

The program offers lowinterest, 10-year loans of $25,000 or less to commercial, retail or restaurant businesses, Zastrow said. Interest is typically about 1 percent, he said. “Our intent is not to make money but to spur economic development, increase property values in downtowns and bring people into downtowns,” Zastrow said.

“These loans are really for mom and pop type of businesses,” he said. “We want to see downtown districts improve.” The loans would target development in the downtown Business Improvement District and Historic Barton Commercial Area, City Administrator T.J. Justice said.

“We’re very appreciative of this lending institution stepping up and offering this program to the city. It will complement other lending programs that are available,” he said.

First Bank started the loan program in 2010 in Oconomowoc, which had a downtown district in dire need, Zastrow said.

“The occupancy rate was about 50 percent. The city approached us to help. Now the occupancy rate is almost 100 percent. The (bank’s) program didn’t do it all, but it helped spur development,” he said.

The program has been expanded to Hartland, Menomonee Falls, Mequon, Grafton and the town of Brookfield, Zastrow said.

First Bank has a branch office in Hartford. Zastrow said the bank would work with any community where it has a branch unit interested in the program.

To date, the bank has loaned nearly $700,000 through the program, he said.

“This is a tool they can use to help sell their downtown districts to attract new businesses and retain businesses,” Zastrow said.

“Assuming the council approved the program Monday,” Justice said, “we’ll begin publicizing it and see if we can generate some interest in it.”

The city meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1115 S. Main St.