Stoughton cashing in on demolition grants

Property in Baraboo will also be demolished due to grant
Stoughton cashing in on demolition grants

Federal grant money totaling $1 million is making its way to Wisconsin.

The cash will pay for blight demolitions across the state, including a pair of properties in Stoughton.

The city of Stoughton pulled together a redevelopment authority about five years ago. Since then, the group has been gathering grant money to tear down older buildings that are past their prime.

The group said the desired end result is for new housing or businesses to revive those areas.

However, with budgets still tight for municipalities, Stoughton’s finance director Laurie Sullivan said the city needs the financial help.

“Without it, those properties would sit there for years and years,” Sullivan said.

Stoughton Mayor Donna Olson added, “What’s changed now is that there aren’t as many of those grants available. It’s harder and harder to do that.”

The Department of Financial Institutions and the Department of Justice awarded about $1 million to demolition projects across the state. The money went through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority and will reimburse demolition bills for 10 cities. That includes a property in Baraboo and a house in Monroe, as well. Half of the $1 million pot went to Milwaukee, where almost 40 units will be demolished.

“By removing these blighted properties, we’re alleviating many of those issues and creating an opportunity for communities to come back, especially to come back from the vacancy and abandonment that’s resulted from the foreclosure crisis,” Geoffrey Cooper with WHEDA said.

Stoughton picked up about $45,000 of that money to take down two homes that Sullivan said are no longer living up to their full potential.

“They’re getting their share of the services, but the tax values are really low,” Sullivan said.

One house sits behind the downtown library on Jefferson Street. The library’s board wants to expand into that space but doesn’t have the funding to do that yet.

The city is still in negotiations for another house on Prairie Street. Stoughton officials used grant money to clean up the gas station just around the corner and hope acquiring that piece of land will make the property more marketable to residential or commercial developers.

“If we can improve those values, improve the accessibility to the area, improve the outlook of the area, more people want to live there, more people want to improve the housing that is next to those properties. So it’s a win-win situation for everyone,” Sullivan said.

Once the houses on the two properties are demolished, they will remain green space for a while before developers buy up the land and rebuild.

Stoughton’s future redevelopment goals come with a bigger price tag. The $45,000 in grant money will cover the demolition of two homes, but a large industrial warehouse close to downtown will take a few hundred thousand dollars to tear down. The mayor said she hopes with the help of more grants in years to come, the city can open more space to new business and new neighbors.

“This is what cities need to be able to take steps to clean up some of the older areas in the community,” Olson said.

There is still nearly $100,000 of federal grants available for blight demolition in Wisconsin. Any interested communities should contact WHEDA for more information about the application process.