We sat down with the Downtown Kenosha Executive Director Alexandra Binanti – Robinson to get the scoop on Downtown Kenosha!
Herzing University is coming to Downtown Kenosha
How did the idea of bringing Herzing University to Downtown Kenosha begin?
Downtown Kenosha, Inc. met with (Herzing University Kenosha Campus President) Dr. Jeff Hill about six months ago and talked about the possibility for expansion of their campus. They had a few ideas already on board. It was our job to bring awareness of the potential of opening a campus Downtown – to deliver business demographics, and address traffic concerns.
We met about three or four times to try to show them the advantages of Downtown Kenosha. We worked with the Kenosha Area Business Alliance and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to discuss the opportunity of receiving a larger grant.
We have continued to work on establishing a healthy relationship with Herzing and keeping our lines of communication open. We have invited them to already become a part of our Downtown dynamic – they participated in our Simmons Island Beer Gardens and they are currently looking at additional ways to get involved in the community.
The Herzing project really aligns with our strategic plan for development. We have always been focused on getting a university investment in Downtown. Their presence is going to result in increased spending at all of our businesses and interest will only grow from there.
Do you feel that student housing may be a concern?
That might be something to look at a little further down the road. I think we need to address housing in general in the area. It looks like the majority of the student population will be a little bit older in demographic. So, the concern may well be transportation to Downtown.
Do they have a timeline of when they plan to open?
They intend to open in the Fall of 2020. It’s going to come up soon. I have seen their plan, it is very aggressive and we are looking forward to seeing what happens.
I am extremely excited to see this happen. This will open up numerous opportunities for our businesses to collaborate on projects and events for the students. We have already talked to businesses about offering student specials, and they are very enthusiastic about it.
They are expecting about 600 students and faculty to walk through their doors next fall, but they aren’t looking to stop there. Herzing is already looking to the future with possible growth in 2025. The building is 55,000 square feet and they are looking to utilize about 40,000 square feet of that space.
(This story originally appeared in the Smart Reader dated November 21st, 2019)
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE EXTRA
Can you explain to our readers what the difference between the Downtown B.I.D and the D.K.I board is?
The downtown B.I.D is the Business Improvement District that is appointed by the mayor to receive the tax assessment funds that come into our area. DKI is the non profit that manages various programs and inititatives with the funds provided from BID and we as the Main Street non-profit facilitate other opportunities, grants, and communication with Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).
Give us a rundown of what a typical day in the life of the Downtown Director is like?
Never the same. Everyday is different. In a typical day I’ll be in communication with local businesses about different requests and promotions or topics of interest in our district. I sometimes meet with representatives like our aldermen in the city, meet with our associates from KABA, Small Business Development Center, and my board for discussions of events and potential developments downtown. Grant research and writing has been a newer task list. I also constantly am checking in for communications with promotions through our newsletter and social media. Overall, it is just contanstantly learning the heartbeat of our city.
What are some of the new business that have or will open in downtown kenosha and how do you help them to get started?
Obviously we’ve worked really closely on the Herzing project which is great. Recently I’ve been in a lot of contact with Gordon’s Sports Bar which will be opening soon. And one of our newest businesses that we’ve been really excited to work with is called Fit Family coming in on 6th Avenue. We were able to advocate for a matching loan program.
What are some of your upcoming goals for Downtown in 2020?
I think that a lot can be revealed after our strategic planning sessions in November/December of this year…I envision a lot more investment in streetscape projects and a personal goal of mine would be to cultivate more volunteerism for the downtown.
How can people get involved with volunteering for Downtown events?
Starting in January we are going to have a New Year open house which you can attend to hear about our programs and get some committee involvement. We are restructuring some of our former development techniques and we are really gonna be able to hit the ground running with the volunteers.
I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Spark series events that D.K.I puts on, can you tell our readers about it?
Our Spark Series are business improvement events that focus on topics that would be of interest to a variety of businesses in the area- between learning about merchandising or how to do more precise inventory electronically, what resources we have for potential growth in your business, and one of our more popular sessions was learning more about social media and marketing.
Do you have a date set for the 2020 annual and hugely successful pop up beer garden fundraiser?
We will certainly be coming back in August! We loved keeping it local this year and you can plan on having a great time for two weekends!
Any plans for a dog park in downtown Kenosha?
I think that is a really cool idea and although we haven’t explored it yet I think that could be something to explore especially since we have a lot of pet friendly businesses.
Can you tell us about the Wisconsin Economic development corporation you are working with to renovate downtown businesses interiors/exteriors store fronts?
Also known as Main Street Makeover…The WEDC is our hub for the Main Street Makeover program which is our accreditation source. because we are a Main Street community, we get to work with them on different grants and projects. What they’re doing here is offering a chance to win their services and $10k in matching funds for a small renovation project. Basically they come in in the spring and talk over ideas with the business and they then spend about 3 days making that vision come to life. You do have to have at least $10k matching funds at time of application to be able to qualify for the match. We have not offered this in our community yet, so we are definitely hoping to win this year to put the name on the map!
Tell us of some of the past businesses that have benefited from the facade program?
We’ve had about 18 businesses to date participate in the program. One of the very deserving award winners last year was Equinox and they did really nice work to up keep and completely transform the building. A Summer’s Garden is just finishing up their project all while still open and I cannot wait to see the results.
I have to ask! How is Downtown going to be able to deal with the parking problem with the Bardens , the Alfred building and now Herzing University all being open for businesses soon?
From my understanding the mayor has a plan to build 3 parking garages. The first one should start construction come 2020 and Herzing is also tackling the problem personally by exploring campus parking options.
Tell us a little about your professional back round?
I come from a pretty eclectic background. I started in political science and campaign management and then went into marketing while also helping my family run our restaurant Binanti’s Taste of Italy in Silver Lake, WI for 15 years. I was lucky enough to work on some community projects with members of the DKI board over the years which brought me to this opportunity.
What is your biggest accomplishment since you have been Director?
I have been really proud to promote all the great things happening in our downtown. I have gotten to know and continue to grow in establishing a relationship with our businesses and invested community stakeholders. And I’m immensely proud of our involvement in attracting the Herzing project to our downtown. Next up, I am really excited to be a part of building on to our successful facade grant program.
GET TO KNOW YOUR DOWNTOWN DIRECTOR
Favorite food? Pizza
Favorite band? Florence and the Machine
What do you do on a day off? Hang with my kids
Best vacation spot? (besides downtown kenosha) Italy
Favorite publication? Happenings and Downtown Kenosha Magazine.
If you could time travel, where would you go? – Victorian era in Downtown Kenosha
Pet peeves? People chewing with their mouth open
Who do you look up to professionally? Jennifer Dooley- Hogan
Favorite color? – Purple
Beer or wine? – Both
Any hobbies? – Reading/writing
Breakfast or lunch? – Brunch
Favorite Downtown event? (besides your own) Peanut Butter & Jam
Favorite tv show? – Grey’s Anatomy
For more info about Downtown Kenosha visit https://www.downtownkenosha.org