As part of the 30th Wisconsin Main Street Awards held virtually on Wednesday, April 21, Alexandria Binanti was the recipient of the Staff Choice Award.
The executive director of Downtown Kenosha, Inc., Binanti took over her post in 2019. A short time into her second year on the job, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and that was followed by the Jacob Blake shooting, which led to civil unrest that took over downtown.
Binanti was lauded for her leadership during the difficult time. Wisconsin Main Street, which is a comprehensive revitalization program designed to promote the historic and economic redevelopment of traditional business districts in Wisconsin, is writing a case study on Kenosha’s riot response.
Among countless other things, the Central and UW-Parkside graduate rallied a crew of volunteers, participated in press conferences and national media interviews, wrote 39 letters of recommendation for businesses applying to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s “We’re All In” grant program, launched the One Town Kenosha Recovery Fundraiser, started a GoFundMe page that raised over $125,000 in donations and helped respond to over 10,000 messages that the DKI Facebook page received in a matter of days.
For receiving the well-deserved award from Wisconsin Main Street, Binanti has been named the Kenosha.com Kenoshan of the Week. She took some time recently to talk about her award and the future:
Q: Were you surprised by the award? Were you tuning in when it was announced?
A: I was super surprised. Initially, I wasn’t planning on tuning in, but our regional directors (Errin Welty and Joe Lawniczak) called me, encouraging me to (tune in). I went on and I was very shocked. I definitely started crying over that.
Q: The last year-plus has been a real challenge to say the least. Now that there is some light at the end of the tunnel, how are you looking at things as we move forward?
A: Moving forward, we’re just trying to get back into that person-to-person relationship building that we couldn’t really enjoy last year. I think that Kenosha is optimistically still going through positive development. We’ve seen a lot of interest in coming into Kenosha recently. The real estate market is still booming. I think that our focus is really highlighting all of the positivity of Kenosha and bringing in that development that was on pause for a year. We don’t see it going away any time soon. We just slowed down for a bit. In the future, I think Kenosha is going to be a very vibrant place to be.
Q: Are you a person who doesn’t like to dwell on the past?
A: I would say that I like to learn from the past. I think we all had to learn some lessons from the past year as a community, but I think it just makes us stronger and builds a better Kenosha overall.
Q: What are the primary functions of your job? Are you out and about quite a bit? Sitting behind a desk?
A: It’s different every day. I’m a jack-of-all-trades in many ways. I’m out in the public a lot, especially now that things are slowing down with COVID. I’m trying to visit my businesses on a regular basis. Also working the PR aspect of tourism. Of course, I do some desk work, but a lot of times it’s coordinating different events and opportunities for learning in the business sector. And just working with our various partners to ensure that business development is happening in our district.
Q: What are you looking forward to most this summer?
A: I’m looking forward to events. They’re slowly coming back. It’s not going to be the same as it was a couple years ago, but we’re getting there. I’m really looking forward to getting some outdoor events happening this summer – seeing people coming in to enjoy our markets and our beachfronts. I think this year is going to be a great year.
Q: When you’re feeling down, what keeps you going?
A: First of all, it’s my family, but it’s the rallying of our community. We’ve all gone through this together in this past year. We’re all really tight knit. For being a city, we’re still very small town. It’s always good to see the success of our community. That really pulls you through.
Q: I’m going to put you on the spot. How many businesses are there downtown?
A: There are 296 that I represent.
Q: Which one is your favorite?
A: Oh, I can’t say that (laughs). I have a huge amount of love for so many of these business owners. They’re incredible downtown.
Q: Can you name all 296 off the top of your head?
A: No, but I can do a very good job for probably the first hundred. And then it would start getting hard. We have a lot of businesses that are kind of behind the scenes in a lot of service industries. We have a lot more tech jobs than you would think … and lawyers.