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Downtown Hays continues redevelopment

The interest of a private developer in downtown Hays in 2000 sparked the creation of the private, nonprofit Downtown Hays Development Corp. The DHDC, with an all-volunteer board, purchased six downtown buildings through a private fundraising campaign.

Plainville entrepreneur Chuck Comeau, owner of C.S. Post Co., Hays, has taken title to the buildings to restore them. Comeau has purchased 10 other buildings, forming the nucleus of the project to restore historical buildings and recruit new retail, restaurant and entertainment establishments.

Hays' early commercial district was parallel to the railroad tracks on what now is Ninth and 10th streets. What now is Main Street was named Chestnut Street. That became the inspiration for the "Chestnut Street District," the name of the area.

A devastating fire in March 1895 destroyed more than 60 businesses. Most of the present buildings were erected in the 1910s and '20s.

The two oldest buildings downtown are the former Philip Hardware Store at Eighth and Main, built in 1874 and the former First Presbyterian Church, a stone structure built in 1879, which is now part of the Ellis County Historical Society at Seventh and Main.

The Philip building is one building among those included in the downtown project.

Joining in the project is the Hays Public Library, which was expanded. Its exterior replicates the style of the original 1911 Carnegie building.

In the fall 2012, with city support and generous members within the community, the DHDC proposed a Pavilion Square, or pavilion area, in a comprehensive plan. The proposed pavilion plan is said to address the need for public space to be used in a multitude of ways, lending support not only to the local economy, but also visitors.

The DHDC also coordinated a Downtown Hays Market, aiming to offer Hays residents and visitors a new shopping experience. The market offers a variety of vendors from those who offer homemade soaps, lotions, breads, jewelry, snacks and more. The market is open 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays and 7:30 to 11 a.m. Saturdays through the growing season.