Main Street finds new way
By KALEY CONNER
Efforts to privatize the formerly state-funded Kansas Main Street organization will be reaching a fever pitch this spring.
Representatives from 23 Kansas communities -- including Russell and Phillipsburg in northwest Kansas -- met in Hutchinson last month and began restructuring the group, which provides education and resources for downtown development.
"Everyone has been really supportive, and not one community has said, 'We don't want to continue this,' " said Kera Nuckolls, executive director of Discover Phillipsburg Main Street. "We've all been very gung-ho about reforming it, and we have."
Articles of incorporation were approved at the February meeting. Another meeting has been set for May, and the group is expected to begin forming bylaws and establishing membership levels.
Kansas Main Street was established in 1985 and had been funded by the Kansas Department of Commerce. The state announced in September it no longer would support the program due to expected budget cuts.
"It was a shock," Nuckolls said. "Instantly, people were just taken aback and confused, and there were questions like 'why?' "
Because both local Kansas Main Street chapters rely primarily on local funding, the impact of the state cuts was minimal. In both Russell and Phillipsburg, directors said the biggest challenge has been "damage control" from news of the state funding cuts.
"With it not being funded by the Kansas Department of Commerce, we had a ton of people locally who thought we just didn't have a program anymore, so that hindered us in terms of receiving future support," Nuckolls said. "We've done our best to get it out there that just because the Kansas program ended, it doesn't mean our local program ended."
Member communities will be asked for the first time to pay dues, which could be proportionate to the size of the city, said Jeannine Byers-Long, president of Russell Main Street board of directors.
"It will be a membership, and they're trying to look at it from a standpoint of Russell being a Main Street community versus Emporia being a Main Street community," Byers-Long said. "Emporia is much larger community, so obviously, the fee would not be equal."
Nuckolls said a significant membership benefit through the years has been access to regular educational training. Revitalizing Phillipsburg's Majestic Community Theatre was a significant project completed with the help of Kansas Main Street support, she said, noting the organization helped fund architectural services for the project.
"That was a tremendous result of our involvement in Kansas Main Street," Nuckolls said.
Russell Main Street has benefited from $168,480 in Incentives Without Walls funding from the state organization. Those dollars are pooled in the community and loaned to business people wanting to make improvements to downtown properties. When the loan is paid off, the money is available for another business to use.
"It stayed in our communities, so we still have that money," said Linda O'Neal, executive director of Russell Main Street, "but we do not have a way to generate more using the same channels that we did before."
In Russell, those funds have benefited many projects, such as a complete refurbishing of Advantage Realty and the addition of digital equipment at Dream Theater.
While some resources were offered directly from the state group, Kansas Main Street also was a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, allowing communities also to draw from federal resources. Only statewide networks can join the national organization, which is another reason why Kansas Main Street members opted to move forward, she said.
Looking ahead, O'Neal said she is confident the upcoming changes will result in a viable, and perhaps even improved, statewide network.
"I think it will be stronger," O'Neal said. "We'll have opportunities to do things that the organization didn't have before."