Kristen Fish-Peterson has sat on every side of the TIF table.
The Village of Deerfield hopes that will make the difference as it embarks on a sweeping upgrade of its downtown, potentially spending up to $1.45 million in tax incremental financing (TIF) dollars over the next six years.
Fish-Peterson is a former business development director for the city of Wausau. Her work there included writing and amending TIF district plans and she also spent time as a city liaison, recruiting and retaining businesses.
Now, municipalities hire Fish-Peterson’s Madison-based consulting firm, Redevelopment Resources, where she is the principal and CEO, to help them work through major redevelopment and TIF projects.
“It works to our advantage to be able to understand both sides of the deal,” Fish-Peterson said recently in an interview at Deerfield Coffeehouse, one of several new businesses that have opened this year on Main Street, filling storefronts that have languished empty for years.
Visible outside the coffee shop window, directly across the street, was the Deerfield Pistol and Archery Center, 43 N. Main St., that just weeks earlier had been approved for a $56,000 TIF building improvement grant that Redevelopment Resources helped facilitate the application for.
The Deerfield Village Board hired Redevelopment Resources in March, giving it a one-year contract through Feb. 29, 2020, at a cost of up to $70,000.
It was a joint effort.
The firm was recruited by the Deerfield Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee, which considered several consultants, including the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP), then passed a recommendation on to the Village Board to hire Redevelopment Resources.
“It felt like a really nice fit,” recalls Leah Fritsche, chair of the Chamber of Commerce. Among the clinchers was the firm’s work with other small towns, including Watertown, Pulaski, Merrill, Two Rivers and Elkhorn, doing work similar to what Deerfield has hired it for.
The goal, Fritsche said, was to “make sure the village had experts in their corner helping them navigate through all of this with a tight timeframe.”
Per state law, the village has until September 2020 to have a written plan in place for all projects to be funded by its TIF #3 that encompasses Main Street and Fireman’s Park and also stretches eastward to High Street, northward and southward to just past the Glacial Drumlin State Bike Trail and to Liberty Street and westward through the Savannah Parks neighborhood.
After September 2020, money can still be spent but no new projects can be added. In 2025, the TIF is required to be closed out, and all money either spent or returned to the entities whose tax dollars have been tied up in it, including the village, Deerfield School District, Dane County and Madison College. The revised plan will have to be approved by a joint review board consisting of all those entities, later this year.
Hiring a consultant like Redevelopment Resources topped a list the Chamber brought to the Village Board in 2018, of ways to best use the available TIF funds.
“It was becoming obvious that, because of the large amount of money, and all the moving parts, that we needed somebody who was an expert in this stuff,” Fritsche recalls.
Up until Redevelopment Resources was hired, Fritsche said, village staff and Chamber members, all of whom also have other full-time jobs, were trying to move ahead themselves. The hiring lifted pressure off them, Fritsche said, leaving the Chamber in the much easier role of supporter and advocate.
“We’re not nuts-and-bolting it anymore,” she said.
“But we can certainly encourage people to apply for grants, and answer questions when they come to us and say ‘I’ve heard about this thing with this grant program, my building’s on Main Street, what can I do, who should I talk to?’ And we can point them in the right direction. And when their application comes up, sit at a board meeting or a Planning Commission meeting to support them and their project.”
So far, business owners with approved grants include Scott Whiting, owner of Deerfield Pistol and Archery Center, and Quilted Oak & Ice Cream, 23 N. Main St., that in January was awarded at $24,000 TIF grant for interior and exterior building rehab. Both businesses have also made their own investment. Quilted Oak & Ice Cream owners Greg and Beth Welsh invested about $50,000 of their own money, and Whiting put in $26,000.
Whiting is hiring contractors to replace the Pistol and Archery Center’s roof, awnings and windows, install a new boiler, do tuckpointing (recementing of original bricks), shore up a fire escape and paint the exterior.
Both buildings are about 100 years old.
Fish-Peterson and Mutty also helped the village connect with Vierbicher Associates of Madison, that is currently working on an updated downtown streetscape design, including envisioned pedestrian walkway upgrades between Main Street and an alleyway behind downtown buildings, bordering on Fireman’s Park. That report is due back in coming months. It will be Redevelopment Resource’s job to help implement it.
The Chamber’s Economic Development Committee has been a constant presence at Village Board and Planning Commission meetings this year, usually accompanied by Fish-Peterson or Marisa Mutty, a lead planner/development associate with Redevelopment Resources. Or both.
“The wheels turn slowly and continued pressure is not a bad thing,” Fritsche said. “We just really felt it’s important to be there to say ‘we haven’t forgotten about this, you can’t either.' The momentum can’t stop.”
Since March, working an average of about 60 hours a month betweeen them, Fish-Peterson and Mutt have helped the village roll out the downtown building improvement grant program that property owners can tap into.
Their work has included reaching out by letter to all downtown property owners, meeting one-on-one with property owners and answering questions about the grant program and general envisioned downtown improvements.
Fish-Peterson and Mutty have also been approached by potential buyers of downtown buildings.
“I think the local realtors are good at informing potential buyers,” about the grant program, Fish-Peterson said.
TIF, Fish-Peterson said, is “designed to make development happen that wouldn’t otherwise happen.”
She called Deerfield’s use of TIF funds for downtown a “very appropriate use of the TIF tool,” and called the involvement of the private sector, in the Chamber of Commerce, a strength.
The Chamber has “been consistent about being in front of the Village Board and the Plan Commission and saying ‘this is important to us,’” she said.
Fish-Peterson said she’s also been encouraged by what she sees as a strong local political will, in the Village Board, to get the TIF work done.
“That support is here,” she said.
The grant application process “was pretty simple,” Whiting said. “And now, as a business owner, I get to update a bunch of things that needed updating.”
Whiting has owned his building for 20 years, and has a wide market reach, selling firearms and equipment and drawing people from throughout southern Wisconsin to his indoor shooting range. In all that time, he said the most he ever got from the village before now was a few hundred dollars from a business improvement fund to repair his awnings.
“I’ve been here 20 years and they’ve always said ‘there’s TIF money available,'” he said. “I’ve gone down there 10 times and asked ‘is there money available?'" The answer, he said, has always been no.
“I never thought in a million years they’d give me $56,000,” he said.
Mutty and Fish-Peterson said in addition to Whiting and the Welshes, about a half-dozen other building owners in the downtown area have approached Redevelopment Resources about submitting a grant application.
All of the applications are in motion, but may not come before the Village Board until fall, after the board completes an update to its TIF project plan and has a full grasp of how an upcoming $425,000 TIF investment in the expansion of Truckstar Collision Center on West Nelson Street, approved in April, wlll affect its TIF fund balance.
Fritsche said the goal of improving downtown is not to spur Deerfield to grow into a larger village or city.
“We’re small and we will probably always be small. We will never grow into giant anything. So, let’s be the best small town we can be and work with what we have, ” Fritsche said.
“So, what do we have? We have our parks, we have the library expansion happening eventually. And we’ve got some really happening things going on downtown. People are stopping and lingering. People go ‘are you talking about Deerfield?’ Yes, I am talking about Deerfield.”