Incentive Programs

Economic Development Toolbox & Resource Center

The BDLP program is a new source of potential financing to assist in commercial revitalization efforts, increase capital investments, and provide support to new and existing property owners and businesses located within the boundaries of BID #21. The program can provide low-cost loans to businesses as well as a possible funding mechanism for redevelopment or improving commercial and mixed use structures. Loans are generally not made for less than $10,000 or more than $25,000 and have an interest rate that can be fixed as low as 1.0%.

Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21 has partnered with PACE Equity to establish a $20 million funding pool to encourage energy efficient upgrades for commercial properties within the boundaries of Business Improvement District #21. The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing pool can assist with upgrades such as heating and cooling systems, roofs, elevators, mechanicals, lighting, building controls and solar. In addition, financing can be used for building renovations, redevelopments or new construction. 

PACE allows property owners to pay for improvements over time while reaping the benefits of lower energy and maintenance bills. Payments for the improvement are collected through a municipal special charge that is attached to the property, not the owner, and is paid back through the property tax system over time. Projects are designed so the annual energy and other savings pay for the special charge for a net positive cash flow.

Please review the Milwaukee Downtown PACE Pool brochure for more details.

The City of Milwaukee is a proud participant in the Better Buildings Challenge, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy that is a comprehensive energy efficiency program that provides all of the tools and resources necessary for commercial building owners to develop and implement energy efficiency projects in their buildings. The challenge sets the goal of 20% energy savings in 10 years by making energy efficiency retrofits easy, affordable and compelling for commercial building owners and managers.

Milwaukee’s Better Building Challenge offers a number of incentives, including free energy assessment to make it easy for building owners to get started. Projects can range from small lighting upgrades to full building system overhauls. By taking the pledge, Milwaukee property owners can easily reduce energy consumption, increase building value and tenant retention/attraction, all while strengthening the property’s overall operating budget. Take advantage today of all the tools that accompany the Better Buildings Challenge.

Kiva Zip is a loan program within Kiva that provides 0% interest loans for small businesses and entrepreneurs through a crowdfunding platform. The Kiva Zip program aims to expand access to capital (loans up to $5,000), reduce the cost of capital (0% interest loans), and connect entrepreneurs with a global community.

Milwaukee was the 11th Kiva Zip City in the United States when the program officially launches in February 2015. Milwaukee Downtown, Business Improvement District #21 is a proud trustee of the program and is seeking small businesses and entrepreneurs to work with and endorse for the Kiva Zip loan program.

The Retail Investment Fund (RIF) program is a reimbursement incentive program through the City of Milwaukee for retail development projects located in neighborhood business districts. The size of a RIF grant is determined by the size of the project, private investment, and job creation. In downtown Milwaukee, the RIF grant can equate to $5,000 per full time equivalent job that is created by the project with a maximum reward of $50,000. RIF projects require a matching contribution that is in excess of the amount of RIF reward. 

The White Box Grant Program is designed to provide targeted financial incentives to increase the vitality of the neighborhood commercial corridors. The funds assist in recruiting new businesses to vacant commercial/retail tenant spaces in commercial buildings. This incentive offers reimbursable grant funds up to $10 per square foot with a maximum grant in the amount of $25,000. The grant may not exceed 50% of the total white-box eligible project costs. The White Box Grant Program cannot be used in conjunction with the RIF program. 

The City's Façade Grant program provides financial assistance to businesses and commercial property owners in renovating the street side facades of their buildings. The program was established by Department of City Development to increase the physical appearance of Milwaukee’s commercial areas and to encourage reinvestment in existing buildings. The program is reimbursable, and the project must be approved prior to the project beginning. The grant amount is limited to no more than 50% of the total of the eligible improvements, not to exceed $5,000 per storefront.

The Signage Grant Program was established to provide business owners financial incentive to add signage to commercial buildings in order to better promote their business to patrons and potential customers. This program can provide up to $2,500 towards the cost of approved signage. The project budget must exceed $2,000 and internally illuminated box signs are not eligible. 

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) administers the Historic Preservation Tax Credit (HTC) program that applies to certified historic buildings. Under the program, owners of eligible buildings may receive a state income tax credit for up 20 percent of the qualified rehabilitated expenditures. Several downtown Milwaukee properties have been rehabilitated through the use of HTCs which has resulted in a significant tax base and job growth, as well as the further stabilization of historic buildings and neighborhoods. 

Please view the Wisconsin Historic Tax Credit Analysis, April 2017 for more information on the important impact HTC projects are having in the City of Milwaukee and State of Wisconsin.

Property owners and/or can take advantage of tax credits and incentives for making improvements to their properties that make them ADA compliance and accessible. The IRS offers tax credits to small businesses for up to 50% or $10,250 of their eligible project cost expenditures for improving accessibility to their properties.  In addition, the IRS offers a tax deduction to all businesses with a maximum deduction of $15,000 for barrier removal and other alterations to the property.

Partner Organizations

A key part of Milwaukee Downtown’s mission is collaboration with other organizations. Be it locally, nationally or globally, these ties are critically important in understanding trends and available resources.

The Department of City Development is the division responsible for business development, real estate development, planning, permitting and public housing. They assist Milwaukee Downtown and its constituents with grants and incentives, as well as design guidelines and zoning changes. 

WEDC helps businesses navigate through state and federal investment programs to fuel economic growth and relocation in Wisconsin. Among their resources are employment data, loans and tax credits, and workforce training grants. 

M7 is the regional development conglomerate of Kenosha County, Milwaukee County, Ozaukee County, Racine County, Walworth County, Washington County and Waukesha County. The partnership provides business incentives and resources to companies looking to open or expand their business in the seven-county region. 

The MMAC is a member-based organization that services the economic needs of the metro Milwaukee business community. The MMAC offers a comprehensive business network, a voice for business owners at the local, state and federal levels, and assistance with economic development.

The MEDC makes loans in partnership with banks to help finance the purchase, renovation or construction of a Milwaukee business. These loans tend to offer companies a lower interest rate and help to increase the feasibility of a project.

Supported by MMAC and M7, the FaB Milwaukee network strives to make the Milwaukee region a more attractive place for food and beverage manufacturers to conduct business. Its mission is to attract, retain and grow diverse businesses and talent through incentives, start-up assistance and workforce development.

The UW-Extension of Community & Economic Development provides research and reports on the health and vitality of Wisconsin communities. Milwaukee Downtown has partnered with the Extension on several analyses of the downtown Milwaukee marketplace. 

The Wisconsin Chapter of the American Planning Association provides leadership through citizen and professional planners in the development of vital communities by advocating excellence in community planning, promoting education and citizen empowerment, and providing the tools necessary to effect positive change. 

WDAC is a statewide organization established to facilitate the revitalization of Wisconsin downtowns as vibrant social and economic centers.

IDA connects downtown visionaries from around the globe to raise awareness of trends and share best practices to make urban centers healthy and vibrant places.