The 400 Block

an ambitious downtown project in Wausau funded mostly by the community

Wausau’s “400 Block” town square-ish area just received a long-awaited makeover that includes a kidsy water feature, bandshell, alfresco tables, and more. It also allows for outdoor concerts, art fairs, farmers markets, and Chalkfest.
 
Wausau’s “400 Block” town square-ish area just received a long-awaited makeover that includes a kidsy water feature, bandshell, alfresco tables, and more. It also allows for outdoor concerts, art fairs, farmers markets, and Wausau’s own Chalkfest.

Concerts, Chalkfest, children running through a fountain, people tying the knot, and yoga classes all in the same outdoor area? Sounds a lot like Phoenix Park, right? Except it’s not. These activities take place in a new one-block area of downtown Wausau called The 400 Block. And perhaps the most amazing thing is that the entire project was funded in large part by community donations – a lesson we could possibly take right now in preparation for Eau Claire’s downtown redesign.

In May of 2010, three local microbreweries offered to brew and donate a unique beer that could be sold as a fundraiser for the project.

The 400 Block originated as a way to replace vacant lots near the Wausau Center Mall and the Grand Theater. When the city decided that something should be done in the area in the late 90s, they spent more than $1 million to buy the vacant lots and demolish the buildings. The city council approved the $1.4 million project design in August 2009 with nearly $350,000 from in-kind services, equipment, and materials purchases. But the city could not afford to pay for the whole project, so funding was slim for nearly a decade.

But a group of individuals called the SquareUp Committee used creative ways of fundraising to come up with more than $1 million in donations in less than a year. The committee relied mostly on donations from the public, which meant an intense marketing campaign. Phil Valitchka, the spokesperson for SquareUp, said the committee created a website where people could donate and see campaign information. People could also see other locations to donate, like the Wausau City Hall, as well as banks and financial institutions. Malarkey’s Pub, a bar in downtown Wausau, helped create social media hype for the project as well. The local news also became involved, becoming partners in fundraising promotions. SquareUp also came up with the idea of purchasing inscribed paver bricks as a way of making personalized/commemorative contributions to the project.

Then, in May of 2010, when three local microbreweries offered to brew and donate a unique SquareUp beer that could be sold as a fundraiser, SquareUp created a Brew Fest. Organizations, vendors, bands, and the city were all involved with the fest, which raised $15,000 for the project. In total, community contributions funded 75 percent of the project, and put The 400 Block back on track.

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