All across Kansas, once vacant and dilapidated downtown buildings now are bustling with activity.
A new strategy of timely investments in Historic Economic Asset Lifeline (HEAL) grants rolled out by Governor Laura Kelly’s administration are fueling many of these success stories. Funded by the Kansas Department of Commerce and the Patterson Family Foundation — which is dedicated to strengthening communities and particularly in rural areas — the HEAL matching grants are critical tools in revitalizing downtown districts and making them more economically vibrant.
- In Eudora, an old, run-down building not only survived, but now is thriving and home to two inviting businesses: Main Street Scoops and Sweets Fuse Candle Bar. Built in 1860, the property was the oldest surviving building in downtown Eudora. GW Weld’s plan to revitalize the historic property seemed unrealistic until Weld accessed matching grants through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Commercial Rehabilitation program and HEAL program, along with Kansas State Historic Preservation Office tax credits. Weld now sees his latest restoration project — one of a number he and wife, Kathy, have completed in downtown Eudora — as a model for other communities, noting anyone interested in such a venture shouldn’t be intimidated. Instead, he recommended letting Commerce and other partners assist in the process. “Now we have a building that was ready to be condemned become one of the most beautiful buildings in downtown Eudora,” Weld said. “I hope that it is a sign to other people that there are good projects that can be done in small towns, in downtowns, and there are resources available to see success and do the same in their town. One or two good projects in a town can really change the dynamic immediately.”
- Kelly Gourley, director of the Lincoln County Economic Development Foundation, always dreamed of one day restoring an old downtown building and seeing the revived property help draw more people to the community’s historic downtown district. She eventually purchased a century-old building in downtown Lincoln and was on the way to making her dream come true — but post-COVID fallout that drove up construction costs made what otherwise would be a realistic business plan out of reach. The CDBG Commercial Rehabilitation program and HEAL grant program were perfect funding solutions for Gourley in turning the vacant, historic property into the home of a new, downtown wellness center, Post Rock Fitness — much to the delight of local residents now benefiting from the new quality-of-life asset. Gourley said she especially appreciated the flexibility of the HEAL program. “They (Commerce) were being as creative as they could for anybody in the state to apply for something new.”
- After over a decade of living in Kansas City, Amy Shum and her family decided to move back home to Marysville, where Amy put her floral business expertise to work — and eventually ended up in a revitalized downtown property ideal for her new flower farm and retail flower shop enterprise, Farmer and Florist. The historic, circa 1895 building she had her eye on for years finally was vacant and available. With timely HEAL grant funding to help curb rising costs associated with renovation of the historic downtown building, her business plan was realistic. The renovated property is now a popular destination drawing even more customers and new businesses downtown, making the project and partnerships that made it happen a true model for others in Kansas interested in restoring aging downtown properties. “I think it’s definitely one of those things, when you see a good example, it definitely gives people the positivity to understand it’s possible,” she said.
- For Christina Beringer and her husband, Curt, rehabilitating an old, long-vacant building in downtown Colby truly was a labor of love. It increased the appeal of Nesting, a popular baby and maternity boutique, and also became home to Beringer Consultations, which specializes in public relations, fundraising, event planning and grant writing; tux rental and basement rental for parties also is offered at the downtown, multi-use property. The building restoration was made possible by the fast help of a HEAL grant, which helped with soaring renovation costs. Now, local residents are awestruck over the property transformation — and after moving Nesting downtown from a couple of blocks away, sales have doubled and then some, and the investment in the Beringers’ building is benefiting Colby as a whole by making the historic downtown district and community even more of a destination. “The HEAL grant gave us the opportunity to make all of our dreams come true – faster and better,” she said. “We had a definite plan and definite goal. It will last into the future.”
HEAL and CDBG are among numerous resources driving long-lasting, impactful economic development in downtown districts and communities as a whole in Kansas.
Governor Kelly recently proclaimed April 10 to 14 as Community Development Week. It’s an ideal time to showcase the many resources and tools available to invest in Kansas communities and contribute to the state’s economic growth.
Businesses and residents want to put down roots in vibrant communities. Likewise, graduates in Kansas are more likely to stay home if they have access to a high quality of life.
From revitalizing historic downtown properties to supporting road and broadband improvements, improving access to healthcare and affordable housing and other needed initiatives, many community development projects are flourishing across Kansas. Each one is helping build a formidable foundation for even more growth. The resulting prosperity will benefit Kansans now – and in the future.
For more information about the HEAL grant program, please go to kansascommerce.gov/heal. For details on CDBG and many other Community Development programs and tools available to communities in Kansas, please click here.
To learn more about Kansas’ award-winning economic development programs, please visit the Kansas Department of Commerce website at kansascommerce.gov/news.