Kansas Main Street program eliminated

Peabody Main Street Association will continue

Staff writer

Peabody and 25 other Kansas communities were stunned Thursday to learn that Kansas Department of Commerce had cut the state Main Street program effective at noon that same day.

An early morning e-mail from Secretary of Commerce Pat George to Main Street communities and directors announced the cuts. George indicated the money funding Kansas Main Street would be used to support other projects in the commerce department.

“The department can better integrate our programs that help companies promote their products and services in international markets with our business recruitment and community development efforts,” George said in the e-mail. “Our commitment to supporting Kansas companies as they grow their export opportunities remains a key focus in our efforts to expand the state’s economy and create jobs.”

Peabody has been in the Main Street program since 1989. The local program is supported by Kansas Main Street and National Main Street. The Main Street plan supports economic development and historic preservation for small communities with a population of fewer than 50,000. It is the only program in Kansas and one of few in the country to concentrate specifically on small town economic development.

During its tenure in Peabody, the Main Street program has had access to technical assistance from advisers for simple projects like window decoration or effective signage in retail businesses to structural engineers, architects, and preservation experts.

The state began a program in the mid-1990s called Incentives Without Walls to provide up to $10,000 a year for Main Street cities to use as a revolving loan pool for businesses. The loans were administered by the local Main Street board and were interest-free. After several years, the state funds for that project ran out, but the communities were allowed to keep the funds and continue their local programs. Peabody has a loan pool of $30,000. Since 2008, more than half the buildings downtown have made improvements using the interest-free funds.

Despite the loss of leadership in the Department of Commerce, there are no plans to retire Peabody Main Street.

“The day-to-day operations won’t change much with Peabody Main Street,” said Shane Marler, Peabody Main Street Association director. “The most acute issue for us will be the loss of funding from the state program.

“When the American Legion façade fell on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, I called the state Main Street director and she said to tell them to have their insurance adjuster give them an estimate of what the insurance would pay and Main Street would help with the balance,” he added. “There were emergency funds for situations like that, and we won’t have that immediate support anymore.”

Marler said there are other programs available in the state, some with no ties to Topeka, which will pick up some of the slack in funding, but the response time will not be as immediate.

“It will make my job a bit more difficult,” he said. “But Kansas Main Street provided a foundation of technical assistance and services that we have enjoyed for more than 20 years. While it looks as though the state program is no longer active, the foundation remains.

“I find it a bit shocking that the state would do away with a program that has had nearly a billion dollars of economic impact for small communities since its inception. However, Peabody Main Street will persevere, as we always have.

“Locally, our program will continue to succeed, thanks to the foundation and principles established by Kansas Main Street. Our existing projects will continue regardless of the dissolution of the state program,” he said.

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