RDA gets first look at cheese center plans

by Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – With a projected opening next summer, plans are coming together for the Plymouth Cheese Counter and Heritage Center.

Members of the Redevelopment Authority got a look Thursday at preliminary plans drawn up by Retailworks and Balance Studios for the combined cheese store and museum planned at 133 E. Mill St.

City Administrator Brian Yerges told the RDA that city officials and project representatives will be meeting with Balance Studios representatives later this month.

“They’re going to be delivering blueprints and estimated costs,” Yerges said of the meeting.

The Green Bay-based designed firm has developed interactive displays and exhibits for museums and other facilities in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest.

Yerges presented the firm’s drawings for the cheese heritage center to the RDA members, emphasizing, “This is just conceptual to this point and a work in progress.”

“This gives a sense of the colors and the direction we’re going with the interior,” RDA Chair Lee Gentine added.

The center point would be a series of interactive displays on the history and the current status of the local cheese industry.

“They’re all going to be different and unique experiences,” Yerges said of the interactive displays, each one of which would have a dedicated computer station to control the display.

The first floor of the building, currently being rehabilitated, will also include retail space and a lunch counter which will offer cheese-related food items.

The center would also feature a large barn facade that would serve as a retail space in a salute to dairy farmers who supply the cheese industry.

“We’ve gone back and forth on what we can afford as far as custom fixtures,” Yerges said, adding that additional fundraising may be needed to finance the interactive displays.

Another challenge, Gentine added, will be to find and finance a general manager for the store.

“We need somebody who has retail experience, marketing skills and social media skills, to determine what things to put in the store and manage the employees,” Gentine explained.

“We’re not at the point where we could bring somebody on board before the building is done,” Yerges added.

Gentine said a potential manager would probably be hired three or four months before a scheduled opening in order to get things up and running on time.

“We certainly don’t want somebody training on the job,” RDA member Jackie Jarvis commented.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has certified the plans for the building and certified that they meet the criteria for historical tax credits, a key part of the financing for the project, Yerges said.

That now goes to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which will confirm the certification.

The vacant building was purchased by the RDA in tax foreclosure, but was transferred to the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. in order for the project to qualify for the historic tax credit and other incentives.

“The RDA has an operating agreement to run it,” Yerges said of the building, which will also include two second-floor apartments.

The building must stay with the SCEDC for five years in order to meet the tax credit and incentive requirements, he added.

“Eventually, the city or the RDA will buy it back,” from the SCEDC at an agreed-upon price of $1, Yerges assured the RDA members.

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