Constructed in 1920 by Fairbanks Morse, Beloit’s largest employer in those days, Fairbanks Flats served as segregated housing for the migrating African American workers during the labor shortages of World War I. Unfortunately, changing ownership and poor maintenance degraded the buildings to the point of inhabitation. Fairbanks Flats was facing demolition when a neighborhood group spoke up for a community-driven effort to restore the buildings. A community/city planning committee was soon formed to find potential developers. In 2006, Gorman & Company approached the city and agreed to restore Fairbanks Flats. Beloit donated Fairbanks Flats to Gorman and provided a $150,000 interest-free reconstruction grant. Additional support came from the state in the form of $2 million in low-income housing tax credits and by providing advanced technology and services to assist tenants with hearing disabilities. Throughout the process, Gorman employed a 33 percent minority workforce from the neighborhood. This allowed for valuable skills development and the development of relationships with contractors for future employment opportunities. Also, the rent-to-own feature implemented by Gorman provided the low- to moderate-income tenants with counseling and support in homeownership, and the eventual ability to purchase their units at a discounted price. Through the collaborative efforts of the city, state, community, and Gorman & Company, a significant piece of local history and culture was preserved, while developing the skills of residents. Fairbanks Flats is no longer a symbol of deterioration, but that of a common history and community.
In 1988, Beloit’s top local business leaders came together to formulate a comprehensive city center redevelopment plan to improve Beloit’s quality of life and sense of place. The rejuvenation of Riverside Park into a community asset was a twenty year process made possible by the focused and dedicated commitment of local business leaders partnering with knowledge resources of Beloit College, advocates in city hall and the residents of the community. The comprehensive plan for Riverside Park encompassed a variety of aspects culminating in 2009 with the dedication of the Big Lawn. The Big Lawn had previously been the site of an aging Ace Hardware store, and served as the storage location for large coal piles, creosoted utility poles, and gasoline tanks. The business was relocated to the downtown, allowing for Beloit 2020 to transform the land into open green space and a quality location for community gatherings. Beloit 2020 provided the opportunity to construct an all-inclusive plan to establish a strong sense of place within the greater Beloit community and has led to continuous City Center redevelopment.
A youth driven initiative consisting of 200 dedicated seventh to twelfth grade students with in-depth educational training on the harmful effects of tobacco use develop and deliver presentations to local schools and city leaders. Their impact on the community has been strong. From 2002-2010 there has been a 38 percent reduction in the number of Rock County high school smokers, a 53 percent reduction in middle school smokers, a 19 percent reduction in adult smokers, and a 12 percent drop in cigarette sales. Smoke-Free Air involved 400-500 youth members who worked closely with Beloit over eight years to make the city smoke-free. Youth members petitioned for support and educated local adults and city council members about the necessity of being a smoke-free city. Beloit, in July 2007, successfully became one of thirty-seven cities in Wisconsin to go smoke-free thanks to the partnership which developed between Y2Y, city council, and the city staff of Beloit, which provided the framework for the state-wide ban that soon followed.