Director: Downtown Vision still viable

9/22/2012

Agency to weather elimination of Kansas Main Street program.

Agency to weather elimination of Kansas Main Street program.

BY ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

State officials announced Thursday that the Kansas Main Street Program has been eliminated.

The KMS program aids local downtown development organizations, such as Garden City Downtown Vision, in the development and revitalization of their downtown areas.

In the announcement, Kansas Secretary of Commerce Pat George said the decision to eliminate the program was part of restructuring of the Commerce Department, and a way to seek efficiencies due to pending state and federal budget cuts.

Beverly Schmitz Glass, executive director of Downtown Vision, said she was surprised by the announcement, but said the Garden City program would remain viable because it's funded by local memberships, sponsorships and a grant from the City of Garden City.

"It is kind of one of the things that we determined when we first started is that we wanted to be as self-sufficient as we could," Glass said. "Of course, we utilize any program that the state offers, from tax credits and everything else, but it was more important for us that we be self-sustaining and so our funding, even if National Main Street went away, we could still survive because our funding comes from memberships, sponsorships and grants.

"What we lose in this transaction is educational opportunities, technical and design assistance, and very possibly the Incentives Without Walls zero-interest loan program that has been instrumental in our downtown revitalization efforts. It would be a shame to see those reinvestment dollars leave our community, where they could continue helping our Main Street businesses grow and bring entrepreneurial dreams to reality."

Glass said 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.

"From that, we have had a net gain of 53 new businesses and over 150 new jobs created," she said. "The IWW funding is very significant to us and we are anxious to see if those monies are going to go back to the state or will be allowed to stay here to continue working for Garden City."

Specifically, she said, IWW funds have been used for such projects as facades, awning, computer software and thermal glass.

"Plus, it helps with gap financing where people are opening up a new business in the central business district. If that goes away, they are even more challenged to find the money to make all that happen."

Glass said one of the more significant benefits of IWW funding would be that as small businesses pay back their respective loans, those funds remain in a revolving account locally, so that as other needs arise, funds are available.

A small business may apply for as much as $20,000, as long as the business can match the funds up to a certain dollar amount.

"Even though it's $20,000 here, $20,000 there, for mom and pops, that's significant," Glass said.

It's unclear what impact elimination of the Kansas Main Street program will have on IWWs. Department of Commerce Public Information Officer Dan Lara told The Hutchinson News that the department planned to contact communities that utilize IWW funding about what would happen to the funds.

In the meantime, Glass said she will be involved in an effort with Casey Woods, director of downtown development in Emporia, to maintain the IWW funds both locally and on behalf of smaller communities, as they will be affected more dramatically if the funds go away.

"So instead of having all of the communities converge on Topeka, we have spokespeople that can get in front of legislators and say, 'This is really a good program and you take this away, and pretty much a lot of revitalization comes to a screaming halt and we haven't had a chance to bring in plan B to know how we're going to adjust for that,'" Glass said. "And it'll probably be in the next 30 days — Casey and I want the verbiage to be done by the end of next week and then we'll start making appointments to go and present and talk to the Department of Commerce and say, 'This is really important and here's why.'"

She said that out of the 24 Kansas communities involved in the KMS program, six are considered honor communities, which means they are progressive and well-established Main Streets: Garden City, Emporia, Hutchinson, Leavenworth, Winfield and Coffeyville.

Directors of the six communities communicate regularly, and recently, Woods approached Glass with the idea of sharing merchants.

"So not only were we sharing resources and ideas, but now being able to say, 'If you want to expand your market, here are six communities that are Main Street, they're progressive and might be worth consideration.' So it had moved beyond sharing resources, ideas and policies and procedures to actually start helping local merchants expand, to grow," Schmitz Glass said, adding that such cooperation among communities probably would continue without KMS.

"I think that we will definitely still keep in touch because we were just on the brink of blowing things wide open. And what was really disconcerting about this is that it came out of nowhere, and it was like, 'Wait. We have big plans,'" she said.

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