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Kriskindlmarkt (copy)

People crowd Mueller Square in downtown Sparta as vendors sell holiday cookies and mulled wine Friday night during the Kriskindlmarkt on Dec. 1, 2017.

Sparta is one of half a dozen Wisconsin communities accepted into a statewide program that promotes downtown revitalization.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. announced Monday that Sparta will join the Connect Communities Program, which was launched in 2013 and is designed to support and complement the Wisconsin Main Street Program. Participating communities have reported adding 274 net new businesses and more than 1,600 jobs, as well as $115 million in private investment.

By joining the program, the Monroe County community of 9,522 people will get access to training, networking and technical support.

According to the application materials submitted by the Chamber of Commerce, downtown Sparta has experienced a “resurgence” over the past five years, with the construction of a new open-air market and half a dozen building owners taking advantage of a downtown facade rehabilitation program.

The city’s biggest challenge is convincing property owners of the importance of maintaining and restoring historic buildings in a downtown where nearly half the structures were built before 1900. The chamber says the plan is to leverage those older buildings into a cohesive historic district that can house retailers and businesses offering unique goods and services not available online or in nearby communities.

A downtown business cooperative plans to expand the Mueller Square market and to offer an entrepreneurship class and grants to support pop-up stores to make better use of vacant buildings.

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Chris Hubbuch can be

reached at 608-791-8217.

Follow him on Twitter

@chrishubbuch.

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Rhymes with Lubbock. La Crosse Tribune reporter and data geek. Covers energy, transportation and the environment, among other things.

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