State hands over control of Main Street program

10/16/2012

By DEREK THOMPSON

By DEREK THOMPSON

dthompson@gctelegram.com

Though the state-administered Kansas Main Street Program has ended, communities still can carry on the program at a local level.

The Kansas Department of Commerce announced Monday a plan to transition the 27-year-old state program to local control.

The program aids local downtown development organizations, such as Garden City Downtown Vision, in the development and revitalization of their downtown areas. The state department announced on Sept. 20 that it was ending the program at the state level because of expected smaller state and federal budgets.

"The decision to end a program like Kansas Main Street program was not an easy one," Kansas Commerce Secretary Pat George said in Monday's press release. "However, in light of our future budget constraints, the Commerce Department must focus on programs that impact the most communities and businesses as we work to expand economic development and grow private-sector jobs statewide."

Key to the program has been the $3.7 million Incentive Without Walls funding that has been used by 35 communities since 1996. IWW funding is loaned to communities to help with various downtown business needs.

According to the commerce department, current IWW funding in use by communities can continue to be utilized by those communities as long as it is used for economic development and downtown revitalization efforts.

With the transition to local control, "not a lot will change that you can really point your finger at," Beverly Schmitz Glass, executive director of Garden City's Downtown Vision, said.

"Now, they're just requiring once-a-year-reporting, instead of quarterly reporting like we do now. ... We still keep getting to use the money that we bring in from previous loans," Glass said.

By having local control, the IWW application and disbursement process will move faster, she said.

"We used to have two open sessions, and you could apply in February or August. If you wanted to do anything between those times, it was just too bad," Glass said. "Now, it will be that you can apply in April or November if you want, depending on how many funds are in the local account. The paper process is still the same, it's just that now we're judge and jury."

According to Glass, Garden City has been the recipient of 28 IWWs totaling more than $180,000 that have been matched by $1.2 million in private investments. IWW funds have been used for such projects as business facades, awning, computer software and thermal glass.

Glass said that a committee will be formed to oversee the local IWW program, instead of relying upon the state to ensure that all requirements are addressed. The committee will include "more financial people" to provide a second set of eyes as a safeguard.

Glass added that IWW applications from August and later will not be honored by the state department, as previously believed. However, no local projects are affected due to the announcement.

"Today, it was announced that they are not going to honor those because they want no money coming out of the 2013 budget," Glass said Monday, adding that the state budget runs from July to June, and August was the first round of IWW applications under the new fiscal year.

The future of a Kansas Main Street program will be discussed Wednesday and Thursday at the 2012 Kansas Downtown Symposium in Emporia. Directors of state Main Street groups, led by Glass, who was elected chairwoman by her peers, will meet at the symposium to discuss the future of the program.

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