C.J. Morgan of West Bend
walks south on Main street near a vacant store front
Tuesday morning in downtown West Bend.
John Ehlke/Daily News
WEST BEND — Members of the Downtown West Bend Business
Improvement District expressed some buyer’s remorse when
they reviewed some of the ideas the high school and
college students generated as part of The Commons group.
“I would just like to echo the thought that I think we
overpaid in hindsight for this opportunity and that we
should be more careful next time that we consider this
sort of brainstorming activity,” Alderman Michael
Christian said, who is also a member of the business
Officials paid almost $10,000 for the opportunity to
host students to develop ideas for improving the
downtown. The idea was borne from a meeting during the
first months of 2018 when board president Mike Husar
requested Economic Development Manager Adam Gitter
obtain a record of the vacant spaces, along with the
businesses that occupied the buildings in the downtown.
That idea morphed into a more comprehensive project to
generate general ideas for improving the downtown.
Gitter provided them with an overview of the project,
along with the ideas that about 30 students generated
when they spent that October day in West Bend.
Representatives from The Commons, the group tasked with
overseeing the project, recruited them from Marquette
University, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,
along with several others to generate ideas for
improving the location.
Participants spent the morning exploring the downtown,
visiting with guests of the farmers’ market to ask a
series of questions to receive their feedback regarding
the area, from Main Street to the adjacent
They then gathered at the Museum of Wisconsin Art to
begin one of the three sessions, each focusing on a
different aspect of the downtown: public spaces, the
empty storefronts, as well as the programming designed
to attract people to the area.
Once those were completed, they were then tasked with
coordinating the disparate ideas into an overall
Among the proposals to improve the public spaces was an
idea for providing a digital experience for visitors.
“It is more foot traffic, traveling, walking, getting
those people in front of those storefronts, walking past
them to go see destination art and things like that,”
Gitter said when describing the idea. “One of the things
this reminds me of is The Ghost Train in Shorewood. They
have a Ghost Train but is actually a light show that
travels through. People buy tickets to go to this
In terms of storefronts, one group developed a plan to
dedicate space for live entertainment, reasoning that it
would appeal to a population who wanted to gain
exposure. Restaurants could use the space to accommodate
live entertainment if it was conducive to use their
“The storefronts aspect of this project seemed more
disappointing to me than any of the other aspects,”
Christian said. “It is fine to have pie on the sky ideas
about, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be great to have this sort of
business there.’ Essentially, the business culture
itself has to be available and someone has to have these
ideas. As a community, as a city, we can’t just go into
business for ourselves on these ideas.”
He believed ideas about the process for filling the
storefronts and recruiting businesses into the spaces
would have been more helpful.
To address programming, one group developed a proposal
to close the downtown to vehicular traffic. Green paces
would be encouraged, as well as establishing additional
seating outside of the restaurants.
“I am thinking that for the amount of money that we
spent, which was a lot of money, I think it is an
overview of stuff that has already been talked about,”
board member Peggy Fischer said.
She added that, “I was hoping that we would see some
ideas on how we would bring some diversification into
West Bend, beyond the Irish and Germans that are here. I
was looking for hopefully some involvement in Latino or
African-American (populations), and how we would
encourage that into our community.”
Some, including Husar disagreed, believing the event
highlighted ideas to establish West Bend as a
destination for people to visit and live. A recurring
idea among the students was to establish the downtown
area a pet-friendly location.
Officials could accommodate that with waste and water
stations along Main Street and the riverwalk area.
“When I made my business pet friendly, I cannot tell you
how many people come walking into my store with their
dogs, from little dogs to big (dogs),” Husar said. “I
mean I had a Great Dane in there once, but they didn’t
want to leave their, as I would call them, my ‘child’ in
the car when I was shopping.”
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