By RENÃâE JEAN
They have a new office, but the same vision — a vibrant, thriving downtown.
Downtown Vision has moved into new digs on Laurel Street in the McCallister Building, which is itself becoming a new office complex. The 1950s building that once housed doctor offices and in later times a pool hall, is being renovated by Bev and Bruce Glass, longtime Downtown Vision boosters. Bev Glass was formerly Downtown Vision's executive director.
Downtown Vision's board had been budgeting for a new location the past couple years, knowing that the Windsor would soon be renovated. They wanted to stay downown, but needed a suitable spot. When spaces opened in the McCallister Building, that seemed perfect — an historic facility being at once preserved and transformed in the Main Street vicinity. Downtown Vision was among its first tenants, and the new director is quite pleased with her new office.
"Pretty much everything in our office is new now," said Nicole Lucas, executive director of Downtown Vision since November. "Julie Christner, the manager of Key Office, was able to find us some desks that were inexpensive, and a lot of it was just being creative and looking for deals."
Creativity and deals have been watch words for Downtown Vision since inception, nearly 10 years ago.
"At the time, there were close to 30 empty store fronts," Lucas said.
That prompted the formation of Downtown Vision. Among the successful efforts was membership in the state's Main Street program, which provided revolving loans to spruce up businesses inside and out. Ten years later, despite a recession, and thanks to the community efforts of many, there are fewer than 10 empty store fronts downtown.
The revolving loan fund is still available, even though the state's Main Street Program was discontinued last year. The state has allowed Main Street communities to continue using money already in their revolving loan programs, as long as it is loaned for economic development. There's no new money going into the pot for Incentive Without Walls loans, but each Main Street community can continue to loan and reloan its existing pool. Now that individual cities are in charge of approving their loans, they can also open up the criteria, creating some new options.
"Linenbergers' here on the corner used an IWW loan for their facade renovation," Lucas said about the downtown jewelry store. "And Shonda Collins used one to update her lighting at Wheatfields."
Dugan's coffee shop used one for its interior, and Illusions Hair Salon to help purchase its building.
Since the inception of Downtown Vision, public reinvestment in the downtown totals $6,183,288, and total private reinvestment has been $2,955,000 — a total of nearly $10 million. The investment is worth it, Lucas believes. A thriving downtown makes a good impression on prospective developers.
"When big boxes come to Garden City, they come downtown," she said, "and that's one of the things that impresses them. That's a lot to the credit of the community. For the most part, Garden City is a very progressive community."
Some new vacancies are opening up downtown, but Lucas believes these will be quickly filled. Downtown Vision works closely with realtors in town to promote new openings to prospective owners and developers.
"Finley's is in a great location," she said. "I don't see a problem filling that spot. We hope it could be another men's store, but I think we will have someone."
As for the soon-to-be-vacated Commerce Bank building, bank officials are working with the city on some ideas.
"It's nothing we can talk about yet, but there are some possibilities we are mulling over," Lucas said.
Downtown Vision has a "laundry list" of items people would like to see happen in the downtown to keep it a happening place. These are listed in a master plan put together last year, and includes small things like fixing curb gutters and large things like a cultural district for downtown public arts. The plan was among topics during the city's goal-setting session Wednesday.
"We've submitted our ideas for how we'd like to see the progression go, and it will probably enter into the 2015 budget year," Lucas said. "A lot of our events go to landscaping downtown, benches and trash receptacles — those are things we can do right now."
As the foundation for downtown has become firmer, the organization has continued to take on new challenges, even while maintaining its downtown focus.
"We are moving in an economic development direction," Lucas said. "We still want to retain our member route, so we advocate for our mission. But one of our missions is to promote downtown development as a whole, and moving into an economic development role."
To see the new offices or make an appointment, call Lucas at 276-0891. The number, like the vision, hasn't changed.