By Joe Bachman
“It’s not a question if, but when.”
Words echoed by Incourage CEO Kelly Ryan regarding the future of the historic Tribune building. The foundation hosted a Q&A session on Wednesday night at McMillan Library that answered community questions and concerns regarding the building project.
Incourage, who took home the 2016 American Planning Association of Wisconsin Award, have laid out plans to turn the building into a a plethora of businesses, restaurants, classrooms, and recreational facilities. The main feature of which will be a microbrewery, and a culinary kitchen.
Marc Buttera, founder of Oso’s Brewery in Plover, has even offered to take on and train a master brewer apprentice for the building’s microbrewery.
“We believe in order for us to grow a successful economy, residents must be engaged in processes that affect their lives, families, and neighborhoods,” said Ryan. “We purchased the Tribune building with the intent that residents would determine what it would become.”
Over 2,000 residents have participated in sculpting the future of what the building will ultimately become, however, the project has not gone without questions and concerns, and according to Incourage Chairman Kristopher Gasch, over 7500 hours have been put into the project.
“The communities priorities are our priorities,” said Gasch. “We are committed to seeing those priorities realized. This building will be a hub of downtown.”
Why is is taking so long?
“The tribune is not a traditional development,” said Ryan. “This is not a private development — this is a community development.”
Ryan emphasized that in a for-profit private development, the process would be expedited, and the construction process much shorter. However, in such a private development, there would be no input from the community on what the building will become.
Incourage invested years into market-testing to build an operating model that will ensure the success of all elements of the building, primarily focused on the microbrewery and culinary kitchen. The matter of how long?, according to the foundation, is put on success and timing of potentially receiving $11 million in state grants.
Ryan also explained the roadblocks set by current downtown development in the area.
“The conditions of readiness and competing interests downtown are not conducive to collaboration and shared vision for development,” said Ryan. “Individual resistance to the project is real, and some of it is public and visible, but some of it is not visible or transparent to the public.”
“We hope our community is equipped and engaged in dialogue without engaging in undermining activity.”
How much will it cost?
Financial research led Incourage the realization that the building will have no cash flow for its first four years — and it’s because of that reason that the foundation has applied for $11 million in state grants, only $6 million of which is needed.
Overall, the project will cost $14 million.
“This whole project is a community economic development project, and it will be funded by a combination of public, private and philanthropic contributions,” said Gasch. “We are coordinating the efforts to ensure that a combination of funds are realized to support not only the renovation, but the long term sustainability as well.”
Ryan cites a set of challenges when it comes to grant applications regarding public and philanthropic needs — this includes administration changes, and aligning mission interests with project needs. Grants are also dependent on local financial commitment, based on local support of the building.
How will it be funded?
So the question remains where the $8 million will come from to meet the $14 million goal to put shovels in the ground.
“The objective is $6 million in grants and charitable contributions, and $8 million would be debt from the USDA Community Facilities Fund,” said Ryan. “This debt is below market rate, and it would allow us to carry us through the first four years until it cash flows.”
According to Gasch, $35 million dollars has been brought in from outside the community to support the work, with $15 million of that amount specific to economic development. Ryan has recently met with Governor Scott Walker who has encouraged the foundation to submit multiple grants for the project.
“I talked with him about the tribune and our investment about growing entrepreneurs in training, and he encouraged us to apply for a grant request from the state building commission,” said Ryan. “The WEDC (Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation) has awarded $1.67 billion in grants since its inception — and only 0.22% has come to Wood County.”
When will this happen?
While Incourage remains confident that the project will come to fruition, the timing of the project is of great question. At the moment, no official timetable has been set.
“We continue to be optimistic, but we want to hit the $6 million mark,” said Ryan. “We can get the rest of the debt to unlock the rest of the money needed, but we don’t want to do it until we hit that initial $6 million. It could happen by Spring time, or it might take another year.”
You can find out more about Incourage’s process to renovate the tribune building by visiting tribunebuilding.org