Baldwin City gains new resources for downtown with selection to Kansas Main Street program

Downtown Baldwin City businesses and nonprofits have new access to grants, consultants and other resources with the city's selection to the Kansas Main Street program.

New opportunities have opened for Baldwin City’s downtown and its businesses after the community was admitted to the Kansas Main Street program.

The Kansas Department of Commerce announced Thursday that Baldwin City, Atchison and Junction City were selected for inclusion in the program, which was reintroduced by Gov. Laura Kelly in 2019 after being discontinued by former Gov. Sam Brownback. Baldwin City and the other two cities were the first ones to be selected since the reintroduction of the program, which Baldwin City Mayor Casey Simoneau said gives cities and downtown businesses and organizations access to grants and consultants.

Simoneau is confident that the program will take Baldwin City’s already successful downtown to the next level.

“I think it’s an honor to be accepted because not every city that applies is invited to be part of the program,” he said. “It gives us more tools in our toolset to keep our downtown area vibrant for businesses and residents.”

The downtown area covered in the program includes High Street from Sixth Street to Ninth Street, the 800 block of Seventh Street and the 700 and 800 blocks of Eighth Street, Simoneau said.

Baldwin City Councilman Cory Venable said the consultants available under the program included experts from the national Main Street program, which is the parent of state-level Main Street programs.

“They are highly technical consultants who know what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “Their approach is a proven process.”

With no vacant storefronts and an increase in traffic after the opening of three new restaurants in recent years, downtown Baldwin City could already be viewed as a success. Venable said that vitality might have assured the Commerce Department that Baldwin City had the talent and energy needed to take full advantage of the program. Just applying for the Main Street program has already gotten ideas flowing, he said.

“As (Lumberyard Arts Center Executive Director) Jeannette Blackmar said, the application process is like creating a strategic plan for downtown,” he said.

Lynn Hughes, Baldwin City’s communications director, said the Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce would be organizing committees to work on the four areas of emphasis of the Main Street program: organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring. Hughes said the committees would include representatives from the city, businesses, the Lumberyard Arts Center and Baker University, among other stakeholders.

The city also knows which consulting resources it will tap into first. It wants a consultant to conduct a downtown marketing study that will figure out what sells in downtown and what the strengths and weaknesses of the area are. Hughes said. Other grants will be available to help businesses upgrade storefronts, undertake historic preservation projects, increase upper-floor residential possibilities and expand businesses.

The Kansas Main Street designation comes as the city is considering new uses for the old brick warehouse in the 800 block of Seventh Street and the old police station south of City Hall in the 800 block of Eighth Street. Hughes said businesses locating in either building could be eligible for Main Street program resources.

Simoneau said that several people had approached the city about the old police station’s availability and that it would probably be leased to a business. Although nothing has been decided, the city is considering soliciting requests for proposals for the old warehouse.

“The city will have to handle requests through a fair and open process,” Simoneau said. “We will need to get an appraisal on the warehouse and then consider our options. I don’t think the council has any interest in selling a property (the old police station) next to City Hall, but I think there is an intent to lease it to a business to create more opportunities downtown for our residents.”

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