Main St. projects' loan cash is freed up

10/5/2012

By JOHN GREEN

By JOHN GREEN

Special to The Telegram

Kansas officials will allow existing Main Street programs to continue circulating zero-interest loan money banked in their communities through the former Kansas Main Street program.

Representatives of the Hutchinson, Garden City and Emporia Main Street programs and state commerce department officials ironed out a number of things during a conference call earlier this week, including the funding question left looming when the 27-year-old state program was eliminated Sept. 20 as part of a departmental reorganization.

An annual symposium set for Oct. 17 to 19 in Emporia which state officials canceled is also back on, said Casey Woods, executive director for Emporia Main Street.

For Hutchinson, there's about $220,000 accumulated in its Incentives Without Walls (or IWW) revolving-loan fund, said Downtown Development Director Jim Seitnater.

"We're glad the Department of Commerce took action on that," Seitnater said. "The funds are so important to Main Street."

More than 50 projects in Hutchinson have benefited from the program over the last 12 years, Seitnater said, including a number of the improvements made near Avenue B and Main and five others within a block of Sherman and Main. The Bluebird Books bookstore is one project under way that will be able to continue thanks to the funding, Seitnater said.

Though the state has agreed to allow communities to tap the IWW dollars, the money remains the states', Woods said.

"The IWW program, for the time being, will be administered locally," Woods said. "The state will, according to the (conference) call, have a contractual procedure in place at a later date. But they made it clear that, as long as we're working within the confines of the Incentives Without Walls program and using the money properly and maintaining reporting mechanisms to the state, it can be administered locally."

Emporia also has nearly $200,000 in its revolving loan fund which, through being re-loaned over the years, has contributed nearly $500,000 to local projects, Woods said. The money can fund a maximum one-third of a project, meaning local and private dollars must also be used, with a cap of $20,000 per project.

The conference call involved Commerce Secretary Pat George, Deputy Secretary Steve Kelly and agency spokesman Dan Lara, Woods said.

Information wasn't immediately available on how much money is pooled in the 25 Kansas communities with Main Street programs, though Lara said earlier some $394,000 was in the state's fiscal 2013 budget for active IWW loans.

Some communities, with no additional projects planned, have also returned their funds to Commerce, Lara said.

Other programs

Commerce officials also agreed, Woods said, to continue providing professional support on a handful of projects in progress when the state program was cut.

"They will fulfill outstanding design assistance contracts they have with four cities," Woods said. "There was also a KDOT partnership project with four Main Street communities they're going to honor."

The agency also agreed to provide funds previously committed for the annual symposium, Woods said.

"After the symposium, they indicated they'll be willing to have additional conversations about how to work cooperatively to reform the Main Street organization so it's not under commerce, but would reform as a statewide organization."

Manhattan-based Bruce McMillan AIA, Architects, P.A., has been under contract with the state to provide design assistance to Main Street cities. The group will continue to provide assistance for four projects that were in design or build out, Woods said, including two in Emporia.

The Kansas Department of Transportation was also engaged in four transportation-related design or infrastructure projects under Main Street grants and those will proceed, Wood said. They include projects in Sterling, Ottawa, Peabody and Emporia.

Shortly after the announcement that Kansas Main Street had been dismantled, representatives of 14 of the state's Main Street programs met in Hutchinson to figure out how to proceed. It was agreed at that time, Seitnater said, to pursue a stand-alone organization that could still be affiliated with the national Main Street program through the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

"There are several states that have done the stateside organization a little differently," Woods said. "All of us are researching what that might look like. But we do need a state organization of some sort, long term, to coordinate with the National Trust and assist communities."

Those discussions will likely continue at the symposium in two weeks in downtown Emporia.

"We should be able to at least lay the groundwork for initial phases of how to move forward," Wood said.

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