RHINELANDER - An old building in downtown Rhinelander could get new life, but it may take an initial public investment.
A developer wants to renovate the building into retail space on the ground floor with apartments above. It would be part of a project that could generate economic growth in a part of the city that could use it, according to Jim Rosenberg with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
Most of the details about the development haven't been revealed at this point on purpose. Rosenberg told Newswatch 12 the developer wants to remain private for now to protect his potential purchase.
"There have been some smaller renovations projects in the downtown, but this project is larger and adds a housing component," Rosenberg said via email. "For that reason, I think it has the potential to be more catalytic."
The ground floor would be a commercial or retail storefront. The 10 to 12 upper-level apartments would be two stories each, providing space for individual tenants, temporary housing for employees, or a combination of both.
Rosenberg says the investor is not local, but is from Wisconsin and has taken an interest in and liking to downtown Rhinelander.
"I can walk into a Target and I wouldn't know if I was in Weston or Council Bluffs, but downtowns have unique personalities, choices, and experiences," Rosenberg wrote.
Making the project a reality could take an investment from the city itself. Rosenberg advised the Rhinelander City Council on Monday night that it might want to look into Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) to help pay for the development.
There is an existing Tax Incremental District (TID) in the downtown area, which was created on Jan. 1, 2010, Rosenberg said. Rhinelander could use the TID to borrow $250,000 for a Community Development Investment Grant via the WEDC. The city would then use boosted tax revenue from the development to pay off the loan over several years.
The WEDC grant requires a three to one match, but Rosenberg believes the investor would cover the remaining $500,000 that would be required for the grant.
"One thing detractors like to say is something like 'Hey! Take that $250,000 and use it to fill some of these potholes,'" Rosenberg wrote. "The problem is that the $250K arises from a revenue stream of new taxes paid for by the development.
"If you don't do the project, you don't have the $250,000 either."
The downtown Rhinelander TID can take on new costs through Aug. 2025 and doesn't close on collecting until 2031, so Rosenberg says there is plenty of time to make the project a reality and earn back the money invested.
Rosenberg also thinks the city could look into getting money from the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands or other forms of bonding.
"If downtown Rhinelander can get some momentum going with a project like the one we are talking about, then it could be the beginning for other things," Rosenberg wrote.
The next step will be bringing in an architect to see the building in person and begin working on designs, which could happen in the next few weeks, according to Rosenberg.