Downtown Whitewater changing quickly
A handful of historic buildings have been skillfully restored, several new businesses occupy once-empty storefronts, and dozens of college students are moving into chic loft apartments.
Although downtown is evolving quickly, there’s still work to be done, said Tami Brodnicki, executive director of Downtown Whitewater Inc. And the city must keep the momentum going.
“The community doesn’t want to see us lose our downtown,” she said. “If you lose your downtown, you lose your history.”
Downtown Whitewater is recruiting businesses to fill 16 vacancies downtown. The organization is looking for “the right mix” of bars, restaurants and retail stores to cater to the more than 11,000 students who go to UW-Whitewater, which is mere blocks from downtown.
City Manager Kevin Brunner said drawing college students is key for downtown revitalization because they provide the necessary critical mass to support business.
Brodnicki said businesses that typically thrive in college towns are strangely absent from Whitewater: coffee shops, high-end restaurants and stores offering trendy clothing, records and sporting goods.
She said new and existing businesses must provide alternatives to the big-box stores on the city’s fringes and out of town.
“We want to prevent people from leaving town,” she said. “If one store doesn’t have it, you have to leave town to get it.”
But having a business on a wish list doesn’t mean it’s right for downtown Whitewater, Brunner said.
“A lot of it is determined by the market and by the entrepreneurs who want to make something happen in the downtown,” he said.
Brodnicki said downtown already has changed almost overnight. Just a few years into its revitalization efforts—and its Main Street Program—the city is where most other cities are in their sixth or seventh years.
She said that proves there’s potential for downtown Whitewater to be a bustling city center.
“There’s a bigger community buy-in,” she said. “The community is very committed to going gangbusters. They want a vibrant downtown.”