A plan called Beloit 2000 dates back to the 1980s, when the community came together to form a new vision for itself. In so many good ways, that dream has been realized. Now the Beloit 2020 plan is well underway and cooperation remains a hallmark of this city. Lindsey Gapen introduces us to the present generation of leaders who are making good things happen in Beloit, and provides a glimpse of what’s yet to come.
Just over two years ago, Ken and Nancy Forbeck made a big decision to sell their house. It was time for a change, so the couple packed up their belongings and moved to the heart of downtown Beloit.
Ken has no regrets about the decision.
“I had both a heart and kidney replacement in 2014,” Ken says. “Nancy and I were living in an older house, so we decided to look at condos and apartments to move into.”
The couple discovered Phoenix Beloit Apartments at 430 E. Grand Ave., an upscale setting with an unbeatable location. Ken can walk to his barber, the local farmers’ market, and dozens of non-franchised restaurants and shops – including local candy stores and ice cream shops. The apartments themselves are luxurious, with 9-foot high ceilings and plenty of light streaming in. A rooftop deck and a courtyard with green space add to the amenities.
Ken is even able to plant an herb garden for everyone in the building to enjoy.
“I’m now the ‘produce manager,’” he says with a laugh. “They let me plant herbs, tomatoes and pickles – and what I make is for everyone in the complex.”
The Phoenix apartments represent just one example of Beloit’s renaissance that’s been occurring since the late 1980s. With no storefront vacancies downtown, year-round events and activities, an elite hospital, a thriving school district, and much more to boast about, Beloit has improved significantly over the past few decades.
The changes have not gone unnoticed to Ken.
“The transformation is a result of people cooperating with each other,” he says. “Nancy and I are very satisfied and happy to be here.”
Beloit reached a turning point in 1989. A collection of the city’s business and municipal leaders joined forces to invest in their own community, which, in return, invested in themselves.
“They realized if they didn’t begin master-planning for the city, their own businesses may not exist in the future,” says Celestino Ruffini, executive director of Visit Beloit.
This group of CEOs and other civic leaders formed Beloit 2000, an organization dedicated to revitalizing Beloit’s riverfront. The membership conducted major fundraising, purchased property and formed agreements with city and state officials. The riverfront soon blossomed with walkways, a new riverfront park, a public banquet hall, a children’s playground, a visitors’ center, an outdoor pavilion and even a lagoon with a fountain.
“Honestly, we’re just now beginning to reap the benefits of the conversations that began in the ‘80s,” Ruffini says. “There’s a lot of planning involved in such big projects, which is why the organization is proactive in talking about things that may not occur until another 10 or 20 years down the road.”
Today, the organization is known as Beloit 2020, and the vision has expanded to include the entire City Center. This 700 acres along the Rock River corridor includes Beloit’s downtown area and high school campus, and also extends to the city of South Beloit.
Specific projects included the development of the Beloit Inn – which is now the Ironworks Hotel – the conversion of a single-room occupancy hotel into the Beloit College Bookstore, and the development of market rate apartments.
“The success of these ventures has given incentive to other private sector developers to add a variety of housing, retail and commercial development,” says Tim McKevett, president of Beloit 2020 and CEO of Beloit Health System. “The goal has always been to increase the ability of employers to attract and retain talented workers. They’re the lifeblood of all of our organizations.”
At present, Beloit 2020 is finishing up a major project in South Beloit called “Nature at the Confluence” – focusing on the area where the Rock River and Turtle Creek merge. Beloit and South Beloit often work hand-in-hand. The new nature center opens to the public on June 17th.
“Over the decades, this great natural asset was ignored and forgotten in the midst of some considerable blight and decay,” McKevett says. “The goal of Nature at the Confluence is to stimulate redevelopment in South Beloit in the same way our Beloit projects stimulated the redevelopment of the city of Beloit.”
Beloit 2020 is also in the middle of a major planning effort to create a campus around Beloit Memorial High School. This planning effort has resulted in the development of a working relationship between the Beloit school district and the City of Beloit.
“We think this is a major accomplishment and we look forward to both the city and the school approving this plan to begin the long implementation process,” McKevett says. “Our goal is to have this finished by 2030.”
Help From Hendricks
Beloit natives know that Diane and Ken Hendricks have also been pivotal players in the city’s renaissance.
“They had a dream, just like any small-business owner or entrepreneur,” Ruffini says. “They were always willing to take a risk, and they always believed in this community.”
After the couple married and became business partners, they secured a loan to establish ABC Supply in 1982. The privately held company sells roofing, windows, gutters and siding for residential and commercial buildings.
With hard work and smart decision-making, the business became a global success story.
Diane and Ken subsequently founded Hendricks Holding Co., Inc., an investment and business development group that seeks partners who strive for significant long-term growth that leaves a lasting and positive impact. The Phoenix Apartments, an investment of Hendricks Commercial Properties, is just one key project within this portfolio.
Today, according to Forbes, Diane is worth about $4.8 billion. Beloit forever remains where her story began.
“With Ken’s untimely death [in 2007], Diane has done wonders,” Ruffini says. “The Ironworks Hotel, Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint, Lucy’s # 7 Burger Bar and many other local spots are subsidiaries of her corporation. She and Ken were also both big supporters of Beloit’s international film festival, and without their support, it’s unlikely that would’ve become what it is today. We’re lucky this is home for her.”
Recently, the Hendricks family contributed to Beloit Health System’s new heart hospital and cardiac center of excellence, opening this summer. The “Hendricks Family Heart Hospital” provides state-of-the-art cardiovascular care to south-central Wisconsin, and features a hybrid cardiac catheterization suite and operating room, a cardiac critical care unit, a vascular/pulmonology suite and the Packard Family Cardiology Clinic.
As CEO of Beloit Health System, McKevett is proud of this development.
“Our commitment is to provide our community with the best care because they deserve it,” McKevett says. “This new hospital will give our caregivers the tools they need to fulfill this commitment.”
Though there are other local business leaders who are also engaged in promoting Beloit, Diane and Ken have made an undeniable lasting impression upon the city.
“It’s never really been about them – it’s always been about the legacy they leave behind,” Ruffini says. “We appreciate all that they’ve done for Beloit.”
Ironworks Hotel + Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint
Thanks to investments from the Hendricks, the industrial age makes a comeback inside Beloit’s Ironworks Hotel and adjacent restaurant, Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint. Both locations at 500 Pleasant Street are embellished with rustic-meets-modern accents that pay tribute to Beloit’s history.
“The building has a unique and authentic design inspired by America’s industrial heritage,” says Stephanie Ashley-Hoppe, general manager of the Ironworks Hotel. “Photos of Wisconsin-based and Beloit-based leaders decorate the walls. The atmosphere gets a ‘wow’ when you walk through the door. We encourage people to take it easy every once and a while.”
The Ironworks Hotel is also a hurry-up-and-book wedding venue with reservations being made a year or more in advance. Light pours across the hardwood floors of the hotel’s banquet hall, where a full bar and dance floor make for an entertaining event. An open patio off the Rock River adds to the venue’s appeal, as does Merrill & Houston’s onsite catering.
Guests can stay overnight in Ironworks’ 18 traditional rooms and 36 suites. The hotel offers many amenities, such as access to Beloit Club’s pool, golf course and exclusive dining. Complimentary valet parking and a welcome Champagne toast are offered on Fridays and Saturdays.
Ironworks is also the only hotel located right in the downtown area, with dozens of shops and restaurants easily within walking distance.
Both Ironworks and Merrill & Houston’s are convenient to businesses in the area, as they offer out-of-town visitors a luxurious experience. Local residents often dine at the steakhouse for special occasions.
“It’s a place where exciting moments can happen, from wedding proposals to executive promotions,” says Jayme Braatz, Merrill & Houston’s general manager. “We’re prideful of the classic steakhouse feel – the loud atmosphere, big silverware, girthy plates and comfortable ambiance.”
The menu features mouth-watering steaks, seafood and chicken specialties. Popular menu items include the Ironworks rib eye steak, which Braatz describes as “phenomenal,” and the seafood alfredo with scallops, shrimp and lobster.
“People who eat that are over the moon about it,” Braatz says.
Though people are sometimes hesitant of dining at an upscale location, Braatz assures that visitors are pleasantly surprised by the kindness of the staff.
“It’s like going to your best friend’s home,” she says. “Everyone on our staff is trained to be professional and personable.”
Merrill & Houston’s opens at 4 p.m. daily.
Beloit Farmers’ Market
With so many events happening throughout Beloit, one that stands out the most is Beloit’s farmers’ market.
That’s where Jackie Gennett, owner of Bushel & Peck’s, got her start in selling produce.
“The Beloit farmers’ market was a catalyst for the development of Bushel & Peck’s as a retail space in 2008,” Gennett says. “The market allowed us to meet the community week after week and learn their desires for a local food cafe and market. Downtown Beloit was a little dilapidated and longing for retail, and the farmers’ market connected us to the community and gave us the confidence that Beloit would support us.”
Bushel & Peck’s is a restaurant, market and preservation kitchen featuring local foods from local farms. It’s a place where people can get lunch, dinner and weekend brunch made from local ingredients. Its also where people can shop for artisan foods, beer, wine, Wisconsin cheeses, local grains, honey, granola, maple syrup, snacks, chips, coffee, tea and more. Finally, Bushel & Peck’s is famous for its preservation kitchen, which makes customer favorites like cherry bomb hot sauce, beet ketchup, spicy dill pickles, pickled beets, raspberry jam, strawberry rhubarb jam and fermented kimchi.
“Bushel & Peck’s is a central part of Downtown Beloit,” Gennett says. “We’re a warm and welcoming place for all walks of life. We’re honored to be the place friends, families and travelers visit to hang out, dine, shop, be happy and just enjoy the community.”
Northwood’s Premium Confections and CoCo’s Tamales, a Mexican restaurant, also got their start at the Beloit farmers’ market. The award-winning market with more than 90 vendors is the perfect place to find organics, produce, baked goods and more. It occurs every Saturday from May through October from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“Not only does the farmers’ market create commerce and help businesses out, but it’s also an opportunity for people to experience Beloit’s revitalization,” Ruffini says. “It signifies the community hitting its stride.”
The Best of Beloit
Beloit has many accolades to boast about. Recently, Main Street America named the city in its top five for “Most Romantic Main Street” in the country. Main Street America, a nonprofit organization that encourages preservation-based community revitalization, has also awarded Beloit as a top 30 “Most Charming College Town Main Street.” The honors have garnered nationwide attention for Beloit.
“Our downtown is definitely one of our best features,” says Stacey Bodnar, Visit Beloit’s director of marketing and public relations. “We have more than 30 shops and amazing restaurants for people to check out.”
In addition to Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint, Bodnar lists Lucy’s #7 Burger Bar and Zen Sushi as favorite dining spots. The two restaurants are next-door neighbors on East Grand Avenue. Lucy’s is known for its gourmet-stuffed burgers, while Zen is a premiere Japanese restaurant operated by award-winning owners. Just a five-minute drive from downtown, Clara Bo & Gatsby Wine Bar at 1901 Liberty Avenue is another top choice for its steaks, seafood and wine, in addition to its jazz-era atmosphere and patio.
Soon, G5 Brewing Company will join the mix by opening a new brewery and restaurant at 1895 Gateway Boulevard.
After dinner, head to Northwoods Premium Confections at 314 State Street. The family-owned and operated sweets shop specializes in fresh confections, fine chocolates, gourmet popcorn, retro candies and premium ice cream.
For the adventurer, Skydive the Rock operates out of the Beloit Airport, where visitors can tandem skydive or learn to skydive alone. Also at the airport, Slyvania Soaring Adventures allows the public to ride along with FAA-certified commercial pilots in dual control gliders.
For families, cheering on the Beloit Snappers at Pohlman Field in Telfer Park is a great way to spend a summer evening. The team is a Class-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.
“They have lots of events and theme-nights, and there are eight nights where they have a great fireworks show,” Bodnar says. “It’s a fun time for both kids and adults.”
For the history buff, Beckman Mill is located at 11600 S. County Road H, Beloit. On the grounds of this 50-acre county park is an authentically restored 1868 grist mill, a new dam, mill pond, fish ladder, foot bridge, saw mill display, 1840s cooperage, visitor center, gift shop, creamery, blacksmith shop, picnic shelter, vintage garden, nature trail and more.
“It’s a very popular spot for wedding photos, graduation photos, prom – you name it,” Bodnar says. “They do tours all summer long, and the mill is open on Saturdays and Sundays.”
Two of Beloit’s hidden gems are found at Beloit College, 700 College Street.
“Two things people might not know about are The Logan Museum of Anthropology and the Beloit Museum of Art,” Bodnar says. “Also, Beloit College is just beautiful to walk around in the summer. They have several effigy mounds that are so cool to see.”
Visit Beloit also helps to promote many on-going events in Beloit throughout the year. From May to September, Friday’s in the Park offers live music and a $7 lunch from a local eatery. From June to August, visitors can enjoy free dance lessons on select Monday evenings and live blues, jazz, soul or oldies music on select evenings at the Harrymore Pavilion in Riverside Park.
One of the biggest events throughout the year is Beloit’s Pops on the Rock 4th of July event at Riverside Park.
“That draws a large crowd,” Bodnar says. “The Beloit-Janesville Symphony Orchestra plays music before and during a fireworks show, which is neat to both see and hear.”
Capping off the year is Beloit’s Holidazzle event – a dazzling evening featuring live music, Santa visits, children’s events, holiday treats and free trolley rides.
“There’s really a lot to do in Beloit,” Bodnar says. “It’s hard to mention everything.”
For more information on activities and events in Beloit, check out visitbeloit.com.
Meet Lori Luther
While Beloit has an endless list of unique assets, its form of government is particularly notable. Unlike many city governments, Beloit operates with an appointed city manager, rather than an elected mayor.
Lori Luther has been the city manager since June 1, 2015.
“I have 20 years of experience in local government management, and two years ago my husband and I really wanted to get back to Wisconsin,” Luther says. “Beloit is one of the few pure council-manager forms of government. So, frankly, that was a big draw for me. I enjoy working for and with our seven-member council. I think leadership with professional management is ideal.”
The goal of a city manager is to run the city government from a business perspective, Luther explains. Ideally, a business is led by a CEO who is familiar with budget issues and demands, legal issues, and all of the diverse operations of the organization. Luther uses these business principles when working with the city’s department heads: the police chief, fire chief, public works director, HR director, city attorney, finance director and so on.
It’s up to Luther to manage these different departmental areas, and also prepare an annual budget and 5-year capital plan to implement the policies the council establishes.
“It’s a constant ongoing process,” Luther says. “Even though the council adopts the budget in November, we’re immediately adapting because things change rapidly. So we just have to be flexible, and I think we’ve done a good job of that historically here.”
Now that Beloit has gained some momentum with revitalization, the city is taking a multi-faceted approach to improve neighborhoods that still need attention. By partnering with local social service agencies, and by creating initiatives within the council’s strategic plan, the city is striving to build stronger, safer neighborhoods.
The City is also currently working with Beloit 2020 to create a campus master plan around Beloit Memorial High School. The plan is particularly exciting for Luther and her family.
“I have a son who attends that high school, my husband works there, and we’re eventually going to have three other little ones going there,” Luther says. “It’s an exciting time to be in Beloit. I love living here, I’m very dedicated to my career, and I’m happy to be raising our four children here in Beloit.”
Beloit’s renaissance is largely due to its 37,000 citizens working together. From the ‘80s to now, Beloit’s innovative thinkers have kept the city improving year after year.
“People in Beloit are optimistic, hardworking and diverse,” Luther says. “We’re diverse in every way imaginable, and I think that is such a strength.”
Many people are still discovering Beloit’s post-transformation offerings, and each new visitor is a source of excitement.
“At the end of the day, it’s wonderful that people are still just discovering us as a community,” Ruffini says. “It’s a great time to be in Beloit.”