The top story of 2018 simmered quietly over most of the year, before exploding onto the scene over the last three months.
The city of Antigo’s entrepreneurship grant program, which had funded successful – and not so successful – business programs since the middle of 2015, this year sparked an amazing array of business projects in the downtown core.
And on the north side, while Antigo lost its Peebles Department Store, a Shawano restaurateur is pouring money into reimagining the always-popular Refuge Restaurant as Luigi’s Pizza and Pasta.
In second place, following business development on the list, is the continued progress on the Elcho School, an impressive project that is reinvigorating the school, community across northern Langlade County.
And third goes to another school item, the change in administration for the Antigo school district as it continues its march toward consolidation.
It was a quiet year – mostly – but those with a pulse on the community could feel a quiet undercurrent of possibilities.
The impetus was the city’s entrepreneurship grant program, which provides up to 25 percent of eligible expenses, up to a $25,000 maximum, for downtown entrepreneurs.
And the list of downtown projects, some funded with help from the grant and others through various financial arrangements is impressive, led by Randy Reese and Over Dere Ventures LLC, which is carving a gaming complex and sports bar from the long-idled Edison Club. Work is continuing at years end, and the Brewers’ home opener will certainly be on the docket.
Another unique building revitalization is the frankly derelict Java Junction building, which the city sold to California businessman Alex Mak on Halloween for $10.
Mak considers the building a treat, not a trick, and plans to redevelop it into an art gallery, hopefully with the second story skylights in place.
“Can you imagine what that upstairs space could look like” he said in a Journal interview in November. “The space is wonderful.”
He is also working with the city to locate a screen printing and embroidery shop downtown under his ”I Stitch” brand.
Also downtown, The Bevy, a gift and antique store, is adding a coffee shop and small performance area and Wild Epitome LLC is planning a winery.
The program, originally envisioned by Mayor Bill Brandt in June 2015, was initially funded with $25,000 each from CoVantage Credit Union, the city and the Langlade County Economic Development Corporation,
Those initial funds ran out in the fall, but the coffers have since been refilled with new injections of cash from the city, county, and CoVantage. City Administrator Mark Desotell has said there is a line of applicants, and those funds could soon be allocated as well.
All good news for downtown.
On the north side, what initially looked like a very sad ending has instead morphed into a new beginning for the longtime restaurant at the prime corner of Highways 45 and 64.
It was known as the Refuge for decades and when it closed suddenly this summer there was a general feeling of dismay.
But that quickly changed when the prime parcel was snapped by Dominic Badalamenti, who operates Luigi’s Pizza and Pasta in Shawano.
The project is immense and is continuing as the calendar turns to 2019. But Badalamenti promised one thing: The big whitetail buck that adorned The Refuge sign since it originally opened is staying.
People will come here to have a good time and a good meal,” Badalamenti said in an interview with the Journal in November. “We do it right.”
The Elcho school board this month set a long-awaited dedication date for March 9, 2019, for its $18 million construction and renovation project, which will cap a project dating to a November 2016 referendum.
The project included a new fieldhouse with a 1,200 person capacity, and classroom space, reconfiguration of much of the existing space, and the demolition of the 1930s-era elementary structure.
There is also a community fitness center, commons, and cafeteria area with seating for 300.
Rounding out the top three stories of 2018 is the leadership shuffle in the Antigo school district, which lost one administrator and hired another, all within the span of a few weeks in June.
On June 12, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Colleen Timm resigned her position after just 11 months on the job, a move that stunned district officials, including Board President Mike Boldig who said hours later that “this is all pretty fresh.”
But the mood turned about just 17 days later, when the board hired Dr. Julie Sprague, an Antigo native, to fill the vacancy.
Sprague, director of curriculum and education for the Wausau school district, was runner-up a year earlier when Timm has selected for the job.
It appears the second time may be a charm, At year’s end, she was continuing to receive positive reviews.
Source: Antigo Daily Journal