Backed by a $250,000 pledge from the Winona Port Authority, civic and business leaders launched a public-private partnership — christened Opportunity Winona — to further energize downtown development.
The Port Authority authorized the multi-year funding commitment Thursday afternoon. The money will be held in reserve for grants or matching funds as project applications are received, evaluated and approved, Port Authority chairman Mike Chichanowski explained.
Those funds will be in addition to the $630,000 already in the city of Winona budget for improvements to Levee Park, development of the area in the vicinity of the Interstate Bridge project, and for way-finding signage in the downtown area, Mayor Mark Peterson said.
The new initiative will serve to “tie new development to our historic center city,” Peterson said, and offers the opportunity to chart a path that will impact the city’s well-being for generations to come.
Winona Area Chamber of Commerce president Della Schmidt said Opportunity Winona would concentrate on the economic development aspects of the Winona Main Street Program, which has successfully focused public attention and energy on downtown. The initiative represents a major effort to draw larger investments that will “drive the downtown forward,” she said.
“We want the downtown to be the front door for our community that it should be,” Schmidt said.
Opportunity Winona brings together partners from government, higher education, and private enterprise in encouraging investment in downtown, city development director Lucy McMartin said, including the Chamber of Commerce, Winona Health, Winona National and Merchants banks, the National Fish and Wildlife Service, Fastenal, and others.
City Manager Judy Bodway said there is a positive inertia at work downtown that has real potential to move development in the area to a new level. She pointed to the positive energy generated by the ongoing bridge project and the work done by the Levee Park committee. Peterson ran down a list of recent projects and activities, including the Riverside condominium project, renovation and redevelopment of the former Charlies D&D location, the Bluff Country Co-op expansion, the repurposing of the Laird-Norton building by Winona State, new retail businesses on the verge of opening and the renovation of the Latsch Building — formerly Kupietz — into “the jewel that it is today.”
The downtown has the opportunity to showcase Winona as a historic city, to give it a sense of place, Peterson said. “Downtown Winona belongs to everyone.”