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2019 Great American Main Street Semi-Finalist Spotlight: Wausau, Wisconsin

March 14, 2019 | 2019 Great American Main Street Semi-Finalist Spotlight: Wausau, Wisconsin

In just a few weeks, we’ll announce the three winners of the 2019 Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA) at the Main Street Now Conference in Seattle, Washington. In anticipation of the GAMSA reveal, we’re highlighting each of the 10 GAMSA semi-finalists on our blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram every day until the #NOW19 conference.

Semi-finalists are selected by a national jury of community development professionals and leaders in the fields of economic development and historic preservation. These communities exemplify the power of the Main Street Approach® to transform traditional downtowns and neighborhood business districts.

Wausau River District, Inc. Wausau, Wisconsin 

Year Founded: 2002 | Population: 39,138 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 34
Wausau’s 400 Block, completed in 2011, is a centrally-located park with a covered stage that hosts dozens of events annually. It regularly draws huge crowds for the Concerts on the Square series. Photo credit: Wausau River District

"The large number and variety of events held in downtown Wausau along with the countless projects ranging from overhead umbrellas to painted pianos along the street have all played an extremely important role in creating a vibrant sense of place in the Wausau community. These unique events and experiences have given Wausau a big-city feel in a warm and tight-knit community; making our downtown a desired place to live and work."
- Tiffany Lee, Assistant Director of the Wausau River District

A 2017 and 2018 GAMSA semi-finalist, Wausau River District has earned its place as a top Main Street America community again thanks to their continued efforts to make downtown Wausau an amenity-rich center for arts and culture. Since the Wausau District launched in 2002, they have generated 104 new businesses, more than 1,000 new jobs, and seen their downtown’s vacancy rate drop from 13 percent to 3 percent.
Wausau has fostered this revitalization through a range of programs aimed to help small businesses. From a development ambassador team that helps new entrepreneurs navigate the development process to a low interest loan program for façade improvements, Wausau has prioritized helping new businesses flourish.

Nestled on the Wisconsin River, Wausau is home to a lively arts and culture scene, with 100 events that draw over 72,000 visitors annually. Events include their Concerts on the Square series, which brings 3,000 music-lovers to their town square during the summer months, and First Thursdays, an event that draws 5,000 shoppers to downtown stores with extended hours, live music, and a scavenger hunt.

Fun Fact: Wausau is home to the tallest building in Wisconsin north of Madison— the Dudley Tower. At 241 feet, the Dudley Tower provides office space for a variety of local businesses. 

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Check back tomorrow for our next GAMSA semi-finalist spotlight!