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Coming Back to Life: Kansas Main Street

Sep 06, 2019

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Since the start of Governor Kelly’s administration, you’ve probably heard a lot about revitalization. As we look at the challenges facing Kansas, it’s clear that one of our top goals should be restoring both our image and our self-esteem as a state. This is a big, multifaceted challenge that will involve several areas of state government all working toward the same goal—including here at the Department of Commerce. Given the role our agency will play in this, I want to discuss more about what we mean when we talk about revitalization and, most importantly, why this effort matters to the future of our state.

Founded in 2000, the Marysville Main Street program has generated nearly $15 million in downtown reinvestment, logged more than 50,000 volunteer hours and awarded almost $500,000 in loans for building improvements.

As a 7th generation Kansan, community revitalization is about more than just improving the state for us today. It’s about preserving our way of life. It’s about restoring our self-esteem and renewing our sense of civic and state pride. It’s about building a Kansas where my children—and yours—could see themselves putting down roots. It’s about creating a state that’s ready for future generations.

With this goal in mind, the Legislature and the Governor restored one of the best-known, most powerful economic revitalization tools in the country. Prior to 2012, Kansas Main Street had a 27-year history of building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development. Now, the statewide program is back and ready to foster community collaborations and partnerships that breathe new life into older and historic commercial districts around the state.

Downtown Leavenworth is home to more than 275 businesses. Since 1995, $71 Million has been reinvested into downtown.

The model of Kansas Main Street recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for growth, and instead of Topeka-based strategies and solutions, Main Street supports local communities to develop a vision and put themselves on a path to success. By putting community leaders in the driver’s seat, revitalization will start with what’s great about our communities and enhance them by making their strengths stronger.

We know that a sense of place can make the difference in economic and community development, so revitalization means making Kansas more itself. All across the state, there are historical sites and districts that are part of our heritage as Kansans. The Main Street program seeks to utilize these “place-makers” as glue to hold communities together and attract reinvestment.

Independence was one of the first five Main Street communities in Kansas. Since 1986, more than $20 million has been reinvested in downtown through building and facade rehabilitation and more than 200 jobs have been added through the opening and/or expansion of businesses. Additionally, five buildings have been placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings.

Kansas Main Street has a solid track record, engineering over $600 million in redevelopment, including the opening and expanding of more than 3,800 small businesses and creating over 8,600 jobs in communities of ranging sizes. This is why the relaunch of Kansas Main Street includes grandfathering in 24 communities that were previously funded and providing an opportunity to restart projects that may have stopped due to the funding loss.

Another essential part of the relaunch is choosing the right person to implement and coordinate the effort statewide. We have opened a position for a Main Street Program Manager to creatively and effectively re-establish Kansas Main Street. This individual should bring both experience and passion to the job. They’ll be responsible for building grassroots support to grow communities in targeted, measurable ways and bringing communities together around the things that make them great. We hope you’ll consider applying or passing the information on to someone you know would be a good fit.

Since 1991, the Russell Main Street program has been dedicated to preserving Russell’s history and growing its business community. The program has 19 active partnerships and participates in more than 10 community events each year.

By engaging across the state, we can help celebrate community character, preserve local history and generate economic returns, including new investment and new jobs. Through efforts like the Office of Rural Prosperity, renewed funding for the Creative Arts Industries Commission and—now—the return of the Kansas Main Street program, our team at the Department of Commerce will continue to play an active role in revitalizing our state.

Why? It’s about building a legacy and preserving our way of life—starting with the things that make us great, the things that make us Kansas.

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