By: Michael Leischner 7/19/19 WSAU
WISCONSIN RAPIDS, WI (WSAU) -- The only private project to receive funding in the latest two-year state budget received their ceremonial funds on Friday in Wisconsin Rapids.
Dignitaries such as Senators Patrick Testin and Katrina Shankland, Representative Scott Krug of Nekoosa, and Transportation Secretary-Designee Craig Thompson were on hand to present a $3 million check to the Incourage group, which plans to turn the former Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune building into a community incubator.
"It's a community hub, so it will have a little bit of everything," said Krug. "We will have some brew-pub and culinary training, there will be a connection with UWSP, it's a chance for the community to come to make this building what they want it to be."
He went on to call the project a sign of brighter times after paper companies either left town or decreased production in the '80s and '90s. "It's time for us to put some money back into our city, make sure people recognize that we aren't a dying town like some would say."
Secretary-Designee Thompson agreed with those statements, saying incubator or community education projects are one of two major selling points for new business along with transportation funding.
Department of Administrator Secretary-Designee Jole Brennan was also supposed to be at Friday's event, but he was called back to Madison to help deal with the fires that led to widespread power outages for 12,000 Madison Gas and Electric customers. The incident also shut down government offices statewide and prompted a state of emergency declaration from Governor Tony Evers. Thompson spoke on his behalf.
Krug credits the community with stepping up and getting behind the project. "It's an exciting centerpiece for what's going on in the rest of the downtown area. It's something that had to get done, and there was a lot of dedicated work to get this done.
"It's also a chance for us in the legislature to help communities recognize that if they advocate for something, we can be there to help them," he added.
Following the check presentation, Thompson addressed a new one-time, $75 million grant program for county, city/village, and township transportation projects. He first cleared up some rumors about the funding, which Republicans had been blasting, saying the funding shouldn't be used for projects such as the Milwaukee transit cars.
"All we said was transit projects for cities could compete for some of these as well, and the city of Milwaukee said they don't have any intention of trying to get money out of this [pot] for the streetcars," said Thompson.
The money will be distributed early next year using a scoring matrix which will rank projects based on their ability to stimulate economic growth in a given area.
Townships will see the most money with $29.3 million going their way. Counties are reserved $26.7 million. Cities and Villages will get the remaining $19 million.
Thompson says a review panel will be utilized for each of those areas that will examine the applications and award the funds based on the scoring criteria. He expects those panels and the criteria to be developed over the next five months, with the application process opening next year.
He adds that the 8th street in Wisconsin Rapids, which is nearly 20 years past its life, would be a good example of a project that could benefit from the one-time funding. "There's a lot of bridge projects, there's a lot of local road projects. If people can demonstrate economic development capabilities, they will compete for some of that money."
The program will pay up to 90% of total eligible costs with local governments providing the balance. Both Local and tribal governments are eligible for the funding. Each project that's awarded funds must be completed within six years.