With a brand-new stadium and an action-packed downtown, the city of Beloit is turning up the heat when it comes to summer.
How do you sum up why it’s time to visit Beloit?
“That’s a big question,” says Tracy Bliss, director of marketing and public relations for Visit Beloit. At first, she’s unsure there’s time to explain all there is to do in this city.
It’s a common response from Beloit-boosters these days. They’re spoiled for choice when it comes to listing reasons to visit. And, with the recent opening of ABC Supply Stadium, along with a major push from the city, the Chamber of Commerce, Visit Beloit and the Downtown Beloit Association, the city’s reputation as a go-to destination has gone from being one of Wisconsin’s best-kept secrets to a destination of choice.
Playing at the Stadium
ABC Supply Stadium is the new home of the Beloit Sky Carp, the city’s minor-league affiliate of the Miami Marlins. The stadium broke ground in June 2020 and opened to the public last August. Representing more than Beloit’s commitment to baseball, the privately owned stadium also adds a multi-purpose, all-season venue for conventions, events, concerts and more.
“We built an ice rink in our outfield, during the winter, and invited people to skate on it for free,” says Josh Flickinger, media and public relations manager for the Beloit Sky Carp. “We want to be that conduit for the community to use and enjoy the stadium. We’re really proud of the facility and we’re always looking for ways to showcase it.”
The stadium also opens the door for big-ticket gatherings like concerts and open-air performances. Jeff Dunham, the popular comedian and ventriloquist, makes an appearance later this summer, hopefully setting the stage for many more large-scale shows to come.
“He’s one of the biggest celebrities we’ve had in a while,” says Bliss. “He’ll be performing at center field in front of thousands of people. We’re thrilled to be able to book acts that will bring people in from out of town.”
Sky Carp games are another draw for out-of-town folk, who have a chance to explore the downtown before and after games, or in between innings. Strategically built on a former industrial site between the Rock River and City Hall, the stadium is just steps away from Main Street’s offerings of shops, eateries and taverns. Baseball fans can park immediately outside the stadium, or they can take advantage of more than 1,500 spots in the downtown sector, just under a 10-minute walk away, all the while meandering and exploring as they make their way to the game.
“We like to think of the stadium as the crown jewel of the area, but we’re really part of an incredible downtown community,” says Flickinger. “We encourage people to do a bit of shopping and eat at a restaurant before strolling down to a game.”
For diehard fans who want to eat at the stadium, there are plenty of traditional and non-traditional options from hot dogs, peanuts and popcorn to street tacos, cheese curds and wild-game sausage (this is Wisconsin, after all). The offerings were so well received that Ballpark Digest last year awarded ABC Supply Stadium with title of Best New Food and Beverage Offerings – a sizable feather in the cap of the Geronimo Hospitality Group, the local company responsible for the stadium’s concessions.
“This is a great honor for us,” says Jesse Seykora, Geronimo’s senior VP of sales and marketing. “We wanted to do something fun and unique with our offerings. We’re proud to be part of everything the stadium has to offer.”
The Sky Carp represent the city’s can-do spirit, after it nearly lost its Minor League team. Formerly known as the Snappers, the team languished in an outdated ballpark that didn’t quite meet Major League Baseball’s (MLB) evolving standards.
When a preliminary list of Minor League teams was released in 2019, Beloit found its team was no longer invited into the MLB farm system. Without the revenue needed to improve their facilities or team, the future looked bleak – until community leaders rallied to save the day.
Among those who rallied to the cause was Diane Hendricks, owner of ABC Supply, one of the nation’s largest wholesale suppliers of roofing, siding and windows. A Beloit native, Hendricks bet on her hometown, spearheading a group to privately fund the building that would become one of Minor League Baseball’s plan from Sky Carp owners Quint and Rishy Studer, led to a 10-year commitment for Beloit to be the High-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins.
With its 360-degree concourse and HD video board, this state-of-the-art facility ensures baseball fans will never miss the action. The stadium also boasts multiple between-inning amenities, including a party deck at right field, a playground area for the kids and a food truck alley, where dining options abound. Add in the family-friendly, between-inning promotions with the minor league baseball experience, and it’s easy to see why the stadium is considered a must-see for visitors.
“Every night is a little bit different at the ballpark,” says Flickinger. “You’re never going to have the same experience twice.”
In addition to being the Sky Carps’ new home, ABC Supply Stadium is also the place for fireworks. The stadium has plans to set off a firework show during every Friday night home game. The stadium is also ground zero for Beloit’s Fourth of July festivities, featuring the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra.
“When the city asked us to host the Independence Day celebrations, we jumped at the chance,” says Flickinger. “We’re the perfect venue, and it gives us a chance to give back and be good neighbors. It’s going to be a great day for Beloit.”
With more than 180 businesses, Beloit’s downtown has been growing and thriving for some time, offering shopping, dining, drinking and accommodation for residents and visitors alike.
Shauna El-Amin is the executive director of the Downtown Beloit Association, a collection of business and property owners that has been committed to revitalizing Beloit’s downtown sector since 1987. After decades of hard work connecting various players, the fruits of this group’s efforts are emerging in a big way.
“Over the past 10 years, we’ve made a huge impact,” she says. “We’ve added a lot more housing and we’ve welcomed quite a few new businesses.”
While the variety and quality of Beloit’s downtown businesses play a significant role, the downtown association has also sought new ways to attract people.
“We put on at least one event every week of the year,” she explains. “We do this because we want to get people to explore new and exciting things they may not have experienced before.”
One wildly successful event is the Beloit Farmers Market, an award-winner that’s become a beloved tradition. The market welcomes more than 130 vendors and runs year-round, outdoors from May to October and indoors from November to April. The indoor market just concluded its second year, but the results are obvious.
“It’s really great to have a year-round market and allow people to buy their still-fresh items straight from the farmers,” says El-Amin. “A lot of our vendors have greenhouses that allow them to continue growing through the year, so it’s great to have this extra outlet for them.”
In addition to the farmers market, the association hosts two wine walks per year that bring 450 people downtown each time.
“Those always sell out, way in advance,” laughs El-Amin.
Fridays in the Park, a lunchtime concert series held at First National Bank Plaza from May to September, is another popular way to get people downtown, as are Street Dance and Oktoberfest, two massive downtown parties held in August and September, respectively.
“We have bands for those parties, as well as a beer tent,” says El-Amin. “Businesses stay open late as well. It’s another great way to welcome people to our downtown so they can see all Beloit has to offer.”
The Downtown Beloit Association takes a unique approach in appealing to peoples’ desire to gather together. Team members reach out to high school and college reunion crowds for the Street Dance and Oktoberfest.
“By doing this, we typically get people that haven’t been to our downtown in several months or years,” says El-Amin. “It’s a great draw for them.”
The Downtown Beloit Association and its partner organizations have made significant strides to make Beloit’s downtown a playground for anyone who wants to get out and have fun. The secret to its success, according to El-Amin, is working as a team.
“We have great partners, great businesses and great property owners who want our downtown to succeed,” she says. “When everyone wants to invest and everyone gets behind the mission, it creates a great experience.”
A Taste of the Food Scene
When it comes to sheer variety, Beloit’s restaurant scene is punching above its weight. Foodies and gourmands of all sorts find something that suits their palates, no matter how fine-tuned those tastes may be.
“We’ve seen a real renaissance of restaurants here,” says Seykora, whose company, The Geronimo Hospitality Group, handles several eateries in town. “There are so many great places to go that it really elevates everyone.”
The big-city vibe of Beloit’s restaurant scene is a rarity in a place with fewer than 40,000 residents, but when faced with all of the choices between fine and family-friendly dining, supper clubs, pubs, breweries, wineries and food trucks, visitors are quick to embrace a food scene that rivals some major cities.
“Beloit is now a place where people come for a night out,” says Seykora. “Whether it’s for a special occasion or something casual, people are looking to Beloit first.”
Tracy Bliss, of Visit Beloit, credits the dining scene as being a linchpin for the city’s tourism industry, giving visitors more than enough reasons to come back again and again.
“We have so many great restaurants to choose from, like Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint, Velvet Buffalo Modern Italian, Zen Sushi & Grill, Liberty House Grill, the Butterfly Club and more,” she says. “When it comes to fine dining, Beloit is the place to be.”
Exploring History and Culture
The land we now call Beloit sits on a stopping point that’s been attractive to settlers since the days when the Ho-Chunk people lived here and traded with other native groups.
After forming as a city in the 1830s, Beloit has continued the tradition of welcoming visitors. The downtown, while boasting modern places to dine, has maintained many of its original buildings and businesses, including some like Stanton Shoes that have been here for more than a century. Beloit College, founded in 1846, is the oldest college in Wisconsin still in operation. Meanwhile, a paddle up Turtle Creek takes kayakers under the Tiffany Bridge, a beautiful five-arch stone bridge that was built in 1869.
Visitors who wish to immerse themselves in Beloit’s history and culture can do so in the city’s museums and galleries. Beloit College houses the student-led Wright Museum of Art and the Logan Museum of Anthropology. Founded in 1894, the Logan Museum contains hundreds of thousands of archaeological finds from the area, including American Indian artifacts and prehistoric North American ceramics. Regional artists are proudly featured at the Beloit Art Center where, on the first Friday of every month, a reception celebrates an all-new gallery show. Art lovers can also stroll the streets of the city, where there are hidden 30 works by O.V. Shaffer, a sculptor from Princeton, Ill.
Beloit welcomes more than 1 million visitors each year, and each has his or her own reasons for making the trip. For those who haven’t made the trip before, it’s hard not to find a reason to stop by.
“There’s so much to do here, especially in the summer,” says Bliss. “We’re excited to welcome new visitors because we know we’ll see them again soon.”