The year 2020 was not friendly to new business launches, but a loan available through the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce made that a possibility for three new businesses downtown.

The chamber’s Revitalization Loan program was established in 2008 to encourage small businesses to consider investing in buildings downtown, but since has expanded to include properties located throughout the city.

The program is offered in partnership with Badger Bank, Fort Community Credit Union and PremierBank, each of which has committed to support an aggregate fund of $250,000. Applications are open to all businesses located in Fort Atkinson.

In the past year, three new businesses applied for and were approved for a loan through the Revitalization Loan program. Erin and Mitchell Patterson, owners of 10-62 Saloon, used their loan to completely update their building at 12 S. Water St. East.

“We were so thankful to utilize the revitalization loan to uncover and restore the charm of our new neighborhood bar,” explained Erin Patterson. “With these funds, we could tackle the much-needed facelift this location required without having to immediately deplete our construction loan.

“While some repairs, like new windows and restoration of the rotting storefront, were a necessity, the added funds allowed us to focus on making them aesthetically pleasing to the eye,” she added. “Quality repairs are costly, but they add to the beauty of our small city and are worth every penny. We look forward to revealing our renovation to our community members.”

Tavern on Rock, formerly the location of The Belmont Casino at 29 Sherman Ave. West, opened last June with new owners Bekim Lumani and Benny Useni. A new parking area and interior renovations were completed last spring in preparation for the restaurant’s opening.

“The Fort Atkinson Chamber Revitalization Loan program enabled us to do a top-to-bottom renovation of the former Belmont exterior, adding new siding, a new patio and a paved parking lot, which previously was gravel,” said Bekim Lumani. “The chamber and city have been very supportive, and business is good.”

A project currently in the works is the Big Bluestem Market Collective, located at 225 S. Main St., now owned by Rob and Alicia Norris. Set to open this summer, the business will feature an eatery, taproom bar, and market featuring goods and products from local micro businesses. The space currently is undergoing major interior and exterior renovations with a focus of recycling reclaimed materials to prevent anything from going to waste.

“The Chamber’s Revitalization Loan Program has provided us with the opportunity to support our dream of transforming a historic Fort Atkinson Main Street location into a space that encourages community, creativity and connection,” shared owners Rob and Alicia. “We are excited about this project and being a part of the Fort Atkinson community with our new business, the Big Bluestem Market Collective.”

Business property owners may apply for up to $50,000 interest-free for 24 months to enhance exterior improvements to retail or commercial properties. All work must comply with city codes and ordinances, and borrowers must meet acceptable credit standards and provide collateral if deemed necessary.

In addition, the property owner must maintain the majority of his or her banking relationship with at least one of the participating lenders. Loans granted to any one borrower for any single building may not be less than $5,000, and the maximum loan term cannot exceed 10 years.

Projects are selected through a competitive application process with attention given to the property’s preservation, restoration or maintenance; its location and historic value, the scope of the project, and whether the project design blends well with surrounding structures. The City of Fort Atkinson’s Comprehensive Master Plan also is considered by the selection committee before final approval.

“The Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce and our financial partners recognize the barriers of launching a new business, and are proud to support entrepreneurial activity in our city,” Chamber Director Carrie Chisholm said. “Additionally, it’s great to see our buildings utilized to their highest potential.”

Potential applicants can contact the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce for an application, which then is submitted for review to the chamber’s Economic Development Committee.

Applications also can be found online at www.fortchamber.com/revitalization-loan. Upon approval, the applicant then can complete the necessary paperwork through one of the participating lending institutions.

The Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 244 N. Main St. A full directory of chamber members is available at www.fortchamber.com.

— Contributed story

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