Officials resurrect Kansas Main Street




Directors from more than 20 Kansas downtown programs gathered last week in Hutchinson to jump-start Kansas' Main Street organization, which was shuttered in September by state Department of Commerce budget cuts.

During the four-hour session, executive directors, under the guidance of Garden City Downtown Vision Executive Director Beverly Schmitz Glass, worked through articles of incorporation that had been drafted by Glass.

The articles, signed by eight directors representing five geographical areas, were unanimously approved. Signees will become the new organization's board of directors.

"It was important that we came back. We're trying to do this with absolutely no state monies. That way we don't get surprised like we did in September," Glass said. "The thing that's been most heartwarming is the people who stepped forward and saw the value of this program. This is a lot of times coming from communities who don't have a Main Street program."

After losing state support for the Kansas Main Street program last fall, Glass said, downtown organizations in communities statewide felt a state organization was needed to meet National Main Street accreditation criteria, continue central business district revitalization programs and grow to include more communities and new membership levels.

Glass said local groups like Downtown Vision can't join the national Main Street organization as individuals; they must work through a nationally-certified state organization.

"There's a lot of work yet to be done, but we are excited to be moving forward when many thought we would just lock the doors and go home," she said.

The new organization decided to keep the name Kansas Main Street Inc. Glass was chosen as president-elect, and Casey Woods, Emporia Main Street executive director, was chosen as secretary-treasurer.

In a press release, Woods said Kansas Main Street directors understand that helping small businesses, entrepreneurial development and community growth is too important to ignore, and there's no other entity like Kansas Main Street that blends successful economic and community development.

"With over $570 million in economic development activities generated in Main Street communities that range in size from Peabody to Overland Park, Kansas citizens are still demanding a program like Kansas Main Street to help put our economy on a positive trajectory," he said.

Glass said the group will meet again Feb. 22 to finalize its bylaws and formalize relationships with associations that have offered help and support for continuing education and training through memorandums of agreement.

Network Kansas, a partner in gap financing and e-communities, the Kansas Chapter of the American Planning Association, Kansas League of Municipalities, Flint Hills Technical College and National Main Street were the first to extend a helping hand to the 25 communities still continuing their local programs.

The next step is to convene the new board of directors, work out the details of inaugural membership levels and flesh out the education and training calendar, including determining host cities.

Glass said the group plans to work with representatives from small business, retail, higher education, entrepreneur enthusiasts, retired successful businesspersons and legislators to establish long-term funding, short- and long-term goals and a yearly budget.

"People are excited. This is where we start rounding out the organization. These are people who still believe in the power of Main Street," she said.

Twenty-five communities so far have joined the new Kansas Main Street. Glass said the organization removed a cap that prevented communities larger than 50,000 population from joining. Glass said there will be at least two membership levels based on community size. Both large and small cities will benefit from training and education tools offered through Main Street.

Glass said joining Main Street is driven by economic development concerns. New businesses or entrepreneurs often won't consider investing in communities that lack a vibrant Main Street program, she said.

A community can offer all the incentives available, Glass said, but if businesses or entrepreneurs drive downtown and see boarded up buildings and no activity downtown, they likely will look to invest somewhere else.

"Now, not all our buildings are full, but at least it doesn't look like a ghost town," Glass said. "With Garden City, which is two inches from exploding all over the place, there's renewed interest from developers and investors asking what we have going on downtown."

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