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Downtown Racine has seen a tidal wave of activity over the past two years and more is on the way.

New business openings, expanded housing options and new events are happening faster than any time in recent memory.

Downtown is about to explode with new development,” said Kelly Kruse, executive director of Downtown Racine Corp. The nonprofit employs funds from a Business Improvement District taxing district and other funds to help promote new development and increase the value of existing properties.

Working with investors daily

An end isn’t in sight. Kruse has investors coming through her doors on an almost daily basis. In 2017, 21 new businesses called downtown Racine home. To date, 2018 has seen eight new businesses open Downtown. And a number of others are “on the brink of opening.”

“We have a lot of big projects that are about to be unveiled as it relates to buildings that have been empty for some time,” noted Kruse.  “That, and the development of market-rate housing should really change the landscape down here.”

Businesses about to open their doors include a steakhouse called Legacy on Main, 240 Main St., and Main Street Bakery, 328 Main St. And a long-standing downtown eatery is about to expand. But Kruse suggests that those are just the front end of the wave.

Downtown is on track to surpass last year. Explained Kruse: “If we can get to 40 new businesses in a two-year span, that completely changes the landscape and the health of our downtown.”

The nature of many of the new businesses is a bit more serious. Businesses that had been run as more of a hobby have changed hands. The reason: Investors are looking to put down financial roots ahead of the coming onslaught of Foxconn-driven growth.

Programs that encourage investment

Cooperation and encouragement from the City of Racine have helped spur things along as a number of building owners have taken advantage of the city’s White Box and Facade program, Kruse explained.

With White Box grants, building owners can prepare an interior space for potential business to rent and lease. The city will put up to $10,000 on a matching basis. Likewise, the Facade program serves multiple purposes: it makes a building more attractive on the outside, it improves the general area around it, and it pushes up the taxable value of the building. That difference in the baseline taxes helps fund the BID, which is administered by Downtown Racine Corp.

Investors see that current businesses benefit from foot traffic that is bolstered by the downtown’s well-defined, compact area. As well as its growing reputation among foodies for its variety of dining choices, a plethora of galleries and museums are also a huge draw, Kruse explained.

Year-round events and activities produced and supported by DRC also play a role, not only for residents but also for the many new and returning visitors.

“We have a lot of new events this year, but the one I am most excited for is Saturday Sounds on the Square,” Kruse said. Live music will be on tap on Monument Square from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, June 23 to Sept. 1. Food vendors will be on hand, as well as free game rental of favorites like Giant Jenga and Baggo.

That will be live music from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday. In addition to that, we will have about 10 food vendors there every week. We’ll also have pop-up galleries and free game rentals, like big Jenga and baggo. It’s going to feel very active down there.

“I am also really excited for Saturday morning when we will have something called Bend and Brew,” said Kruse. “We really trying to use the square as it was meant to be used.”

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Do you commute? We’ve got updates on the road construction on Interstate 94 in Racine County and Douglas Avenue.

Also, if you are looking for summer fun, check out Kraut Music Fest, which is set for June 8, 9, and 10.

Rex Davenport

Rex Davenport is a reporter, editor and editorial project manager with more than 40 years of experience in newspaper, business magazines and other content channels.