Leaders from Wisconsin tour city, hoping to take page from book of Danville’s revitalization

Officials from Watertown, Wisconsin, visited Danville on Monday to get some pointers on how to revitalize their city — including hoped-for construction of a new YMCA.

Watertown is up against similar challenges Danville had several years ago and is still addressing today.

In fact, it was in 2010 when Danville city leaders went to Greenville, South Carolina, for tips on how to rejuvenate the city’s downtown. It was a time when the downtown was nearly empty — before millions of dollars in public and private investment in the River District brought lofts, restaurants, a brewery and other businesses.

Dan River Inc. had just closed and the local tobacco industry was gone.

“[Danville] faced a lot of change quickly, and we’re in the same boat,” Jon Lange, CEO of the Watertown Area YMCA, told the Danville Register & Bee during a tour of the Y Monday afternoon.

About 15 to 20 officials from Danville and Watertown toured the facility. Before seeing the Y, they took a ride around the city — mostly in the River District — in the Danville Trolley with city economic development officials and had lunch at Golden Leaf Bistro.

Emily McFarland, alderperson with the Watertown Common Council, said the city in southeastern Wisconsin is similar in geographic area to Danville but has a smaller population — about 25,000.

“We have a city on the brink of a lot of development,” McFarland said.

Just as Danville lost signature industries including tobacco and textiles, Watertown has lost jobs as well, including many in metal processing, she said.

But the city is building a new library and has a redevelopment plan for its downtown, McFarland said. Officials have purchased buildings to be razed and the properties converted to green space. City officials are planning an amphitheatre, kayak docks along the Rock River that runs through the city, and a boutique hotel, she added.

Like Danville, Watertown also has a hospital — the former Danville Regional Medical Center — that was bought out by LifePoint Health, headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee, and a foundation has been set up after that sale.

The Danville Regional Foundation uses funds from the sale of the hospital to LifePoint to fund projects. The DRF provided most of the money for construction of Danville’s YMCA, which was built from 2012-14.

Watertown is also looking to build a new YMCA, McFarland said.

Sarah Folmar, Danville Family YMCA CEO, said she was proud to show what the Y and the city have accomplished over the last five years. It wasn’t that long ago when Danville officials were looking for recommendations on how to improve their own city, she pointed out, referring to their 2010 visit to Greenville.

John Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at jcrane@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7987.

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