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New city loan program aims to bring business to Village area

Sept. 24, 2013

One year after concerned Brookfield residents organized to revitalize the Village area of the city, a new program offers more hope for local businesses.

The city is now accepting applications from Village businesses for loans with 1 percent interest rates to be used to buy or renovate property. The new revolving loan fund has been established by First Bank Financial Center.

Only businesses in the Village area will be eligible for the loans, which will come from a pool of $150,000 provided in full by the bank, with no tax dollars involved. The city's role will be to help identify good candidates and review their applications.

Businesses interested

Tim Casey, Brookfield's economic development coordinator, said he has already talked to two businesses interested in opening in the city with help from loans from the fund. He said the loans will encourage businesses to invest in renovating Village real estate, which is dominated by older buildings designed as residences or office space.

"A lot of the interest is from retail- and restaurant-type businesses so you have to do some work on the spaces," Casey said. "So I think it will help people say, we can make sense of this because of the low-interest loans available."

The loans will generally range from $10,000 to $25,000 and be repaid over five to ten years.

First Bank already has set up similar loan pools in Oconomowoc, Grafton, Mequon and Hartland, and officials are trying to start one in Menomonee Falls.

"The loan pool has been very successful for Main Streets," Nate Zastrow, the bank's chief financial officer, said. "It's not for really big businesses. It's for the mom-and-pops."

First Bank opened its Brookfield location last year and sees the loan pool as part of its effort to be a "community bank," he said.

"We're not here to make money," Zastrow said. "It's really to help build the economic engine of the Village."

Ongoing efforts

Efforts to strengthen the Village business district began last summer when Brookfield artist Dawn Farina Condon teamed up with Paula Moylan, who owns Urban Upcycle. The two started Brookfield Village Ltd., a not-for-profit group that has organized events to attract people to area businesses.

"I have lived in Brookfield all my life, and I just couldn't believe why we couldn't do something with that Village to bring it to life," Condon said. "We've just gone gangbusters for a little over a year getting events down here and getting officials involved."

In the last year, the group has hosted a Christmas tree lighting, Kids Fest and farmers market. It is planning an art walk for Nov. 1 featuring Marina Lee's life-size fiberglass animals, with several businesses hosting other artists.

Condon said she thinks the new loan program will help expand the Village business district, which would benefit businesses already there.

"We would love to bring it to life with new businesses that will attract people walking, biking, hanging out," Condon said. "We'd like to have it be a destination."

Casey had a similar vision. Looking two to three years in the future, Casey said, he hopes the Village will see the opening of another restaurant, a coffee shop and a few more retail stores.

"It's come a long way in just a year," Casey said. "What we need now is some more restaurants and retail to draw people there on a daily basis."

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