ENTHUSIASTIC SENDOFF: A group of supporters gathered at the Ohio Theatre on Saturday to wish good luck to a team representing Madison in the America’s Best Communities competition this week in Denver. The winner of the competition receives $3 million. (Staff photo by Renee Bruck/rbruck@madisoncourier.com)
ENTHUSIASTIC SENDOFF: A group of supporters gathered at the Ohio Theatre on Saturday to wish good luck to a team representing Madison in the America’s Best Communities competition this week in Denver. The winner of the competition receives $3 million. (Staff photo by Renee Bruck/rbruck@madisoncourier.com)
A multi-year competition is just days away from announcing one of eight communities as America’s Best. Madison is one of those communities.

The winner and two runners-up will receive millions of dollars for their efforts over the last two years.

Dozens of area residents gathered Saturday at the Ohio Theater on Main Street to wish the local five-member team traveling to Denver, Colo., good luck for the America’s Best Communities competition final announcement event. The first-place winner will receive $3 million. The second-place and third-place winners will receive $2 million and $1 million respectively to continue work on their community revitalization plan.

Madison’s participation in the competition, which has already brought $150,000 in winnings to the community for the construction of a pedestrian and bicycle pathway loop in Madison, was almost something that wasn’t. Only a minute remained when the application was submitted to Frontier Communications in the first round of competition.

Madison Community Relations Director and ABC Madison team member Andrew Forrester said a Frontier Communications representative reached out in late 2014 to discuss the multi-year competition, which had an entry deadline of February 2015. At the time, he thought the deadline was at midnight, but a reminder email sent out that day noted the deadline was actually 6 p.m.

Forrester questioned whether it would really be worth sending in the application after receiving the reminder email, but he gathered all the material just in time.

“I turned it in at 5:59 p.m.,” Forrester said.

A few months later – in April 2015 – Forrester and others learned Madison’s last-minute submission had been chosen as one of 50 quarterfinalists from 138 community applicant teams, which represented 347 communities from across the country.

The ABC team found out in January 2016 that Madison advanced in the competition after being announced as one of 15 semi-finalists. Each semi-finalist team received a “ticket” to the ABC Summit in Durham, N.C., last April where the team made a presentation for a chance to win $100,000 and to be named one of eight finalists.

Madison Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director and ABC Madison team member Lindsay Bloos said she was hopeful going to North Carolina that Madison could win, but she wasn’t so sure after witnessing the other presentations during the summit.

“I just kept thinking these other communities are fantastic,” she said.

Yet Madison was the fifth of the eight finalists announced.

“It was a very surreal moment,” Bloos said.

The ABC Madison team returned home and set to work reopening the former Hatcher Hill Road as a pedestrian and bicycle trail on Madison’s east side, as well as beginning the revitalization work along Mulberry Street.

Bloos said the competition has been a friendly one with a great camaraderie between the eight communities during the past year. Other finalists include: Chisago Lakes Area, Minn.; Darrington/Arlington, Wash.; Huntington, W. Va.; Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; Statesboro, Ga.; Tualatin, Ore.; and Valley County/Meadows Valley, Idaho. 

Forrester said it’ll be difficult to be rooting against any of the finalists during the final event.

“They all have done amazing things,” he said.

Still, Madison team members hope to bring home the grand prize to allow the loop to connect the hilltop and downtown areas. The $3 million – or any of the top prizes for that matter – will help continue the work on the Madison Connector by connecting the base of Hatcher Hill Trail to Mulberry Street and Hatcher Hill Trail to the Heritage Trail, as well as trailheads, signage, benches, bathrooms, maps and possibly a bike share program or spurs off the loop.

Winners will be announced Wednesday during a ceremony in Denver. The ceremony can be viewed on a large screen at 7 p.m. at two “viewing party” locations in Madison. 

Viewing parties will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Boneyard Grill at 513 Clifty Drive or The Red Bicycle Hall at 125 E. Main St. Light refreshments and a cash bar will be available at both events.