The Wausau River District is one of three winners of the 2019 Great American Main Street Award, which recognizes communities for their excellence in preservation-based commercial district revitalization, Wausau River District announced today.

Selected by a national jury of community development professionals and leaders in the fields of economic development and historic preservation, Wausau River District is being recognized for becoming an arts and culture destination with engaging public spaces and a booming local economy, according to a Wausau River District news release.

“Wausau River District has set an example for communities across the country that are looking to cultivate sustainable, long-term revitalization in their downtown,” said National Main Street Center CEO and President Patrice Frey in the release. “They have shown what’s possible if you invest in public spaces, expand partnerships and collaborations, diversify funding sources and launch programs that respond to the needs of your community.”

According to Wausau River District:

Before the district formed in 2002, the downtown faced a decade of blight and competition from big box stores, resulting in a constant flight of local businesses. Between 2002 and 2010, Wausau River District advocated for new developments and redesigned wider and more walkable streets. These efforts, combined with bringing in nearly $120 million in public and private investment, have sparked a transformation. Downtown Wausau’s vacancy rate has dropped from 13 percent to 3 percent since 2002, and residential development has grown.

Wausau has focused on developing unique public spaces and special events that showcase the character and natural beauty of the downtown. Wausau River District implemented a series of strategies to jumpstart these efforts, including placing painted pianos, murals, public art displays, and an umbrella art installation downtown. Wausau River District also hosts 100 special events each year in downtown, ranging from concerts to art fairs, drawing over 72,000 visitors annually. The jewel of Wausau is the 400 Block, a park completed in 2011 with a covered stage that hosts dozens of events annually, as well as a skating rink, snow slide, and splash pad.

“I’m beyond proud of our community’s focus on improving the quality of life for our residents, through the creation of public spaces, community events, expansion of walking/biking trails, and the vast amount of cultural and historical offerings that make our downtown so vibrant any time of the year,” said Blake Opal-Wahoske, executive director of Wausau River District, in the news release.