Vision Wisconsin

To bring Wisconsin community development efforts to the next level, we support creation of Vision Wisconsin, a revolving grant fund for major public infrastructure projects.

Vision Wisconsin is modeled after the state of Iowa’s Vision Iowa Program, which was created to assist recreational, cultural, entertainment and educational projects. The Vision Iowa program has awarded $226 million to 13 major state projects since 2000, which was the catalyst for nearly $1 billion in investment. A good example of a Vision Iowa success story is the America’s River Project in Dubuque, IA. The City of Dubuque used a $40 million Vision Iowa Grant to revitalize the Port of Dubuque on the Mississippi River, which culminated in the construction of the $180-plus million Grand River Center. Today, Dubuque’s thriving riverfront has transformed the community.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin communities scrape and scrounge for dollars to take on projects. Vision Wisconsin would generate the dollars necessary for communities to undertake major public infrastructure projects. Here is more detailed information on the program:

Vision Wisconsin Executive Summary

The Need
Community development activities in Wisconsin are funded in many different ways in Wisconsin. The primary government-sponsored revenue source for these activities is tax increment financing (TIF). While TIF has been a wonderful asset for many communities, it does not generate the dollars necessary for communities to undertake major public infrastructure projects.

There are also various grant and loan programs offered by the state and federal government that communities can apply for, but this money is usually awarded to projects that can meet a very specific (and narrow) set of criteria.

To bring Wisconsin community development efforts to the next level, we support creation of Vision Wisconsin, a revolving fund for major public infrastructure projects.

What Kinds of Projects Would be Eligible for Vision Wisconsin?
The Vision Wisconsin Program is designed to assist projects that will provide recreational, cultural, entertainment and educational attractions for the people of Wisconsin. Projects must be available to the general public for public use. These attractions should position a community to take advantage of economic development opportunities and strengthen its attractiveness as a place to work and live>

One of the goals of Vision Wisconsin would be to keep project eligibility criteria as broad as possible. This means that all sorts of projects would be eligible to receive funding for the program. Some examples could include museums, theme parks, cultural and recreational centers, recreational trails, heritage attractions, sports arenas, performing arts venues and other attractions.

Program Funding
The program shall award $10 million in its inaugural year, and will have $10 million to award annually thereafter. Any non-awarded funds will carry over into the next year. Vision Wisconsin funding can come in the form of grants, loans, forgivable loans, loan guarantees or interim financing. A need for Vision Wisconsin funding must be shown after other financial resources have been committed for the proposed project.

One-fourth of Vision Wisconsin funds shall be allocated to projects in cities with populations of 10,000 or less.

There is limit on the amount of times a project can apply for funding. For example, if the City of Janesville has a downtown revitalization plan that contains four separate phases of activity, each phase would be eligible to apply for Vision Wisconsin funding.

While here is no cap on the amount that an individual project group can ask for, awards will be limited by the amount of program funds available.

Who Can Apply?
Eligible applicants include a city, county, public organization, or school district in cooperation with a city or county. (“Public organization” means a not-for-profit economic development or other not-for-profit organization that sponsors or supports community or tourism attractions and activities.)

Program Administration
The Vision Wisconsin Program would be under the jurisdiction of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), and would be governed by a board of directors. This Vision Wisconsin Board would define project eligibility standards, set application deadlines, review project applications, and distribute all project awards.

How Projects are Reviewed and Chosen
While the project review criteria would be under the jurisdiction of the Vision Wisconsin Board, here is a sample framework used by the State of Iowa’s Community Attraction and Tourism (CAT) Program to award grants:

“The Vision Iowa Board’s CAT Review Committee will rate applications on the basis of:

• Feasibility (0-25 points, 15-point minimum required): Is the project viable and sustainable? Are there sufficient resources to start and sustain the operation?

• Economic Impact (0-25 points, 15-point minimum required): Will the project have a positive impact on the economy?

• Leveraged Activity (0-10 points, 6-point minimum required): Will economic growth and job opportunities be enhanced? How will OTHER recreational, cultural, educational and entertainment opportunities be stimulated or developed, ideally by private developers?

• Matching Funds (0-25 points, no minimum): Consider extent to which local resources have been dedicated. Higher ratings may be given to those projects…financially supported by both public and private organizations. *

* The Iowa CAT Program requires the project applicant to provide 50 percent funding match. At least in the program’s initial years, Vision Wisconsin projects would have no funding match requirement.

• Planning Principles (0-10 points, no minimum): Planning principles should be described, including implementation of green sustainable design principles; compliance with comprehensive plans, zoning and land use; description of effective use of existing resources (land and buildings) to avoid costly duplication or use; provisions for a variety of transportation choices; enhancement of a unique sense of place; description of space conservation and environmental preservation; promotion of safety, livability and revitalization of existing areas; consideration given to all income levels.

• Technology and Values (0-5 points, no minimum): Project should encourage technologies allowing regional or statewide access; enhance education, wellness, and breadth to attract all ages; promote healthy indoor environments promote fine arts, including landscaping.

A minimum score of 65 out of 100 points is needed for a project to be considered for funding. This score will be used by the CAT review committee for the purpose of recommending to the full board that the project be considered.”