Main Street program could benefit downtown Hillsboro, director says

Jeanne Stinson guaranteed at least two things if Hillsboro decides to participate in the Kansas Main Street program: it will make a positive difference for the community’s central business district…and it will take a lot of work.

Stinson, director of the program in Kansas, explained its parameters to about 35 people from the Hillsboro community during an open luncheon meeting Dec. 11.

The Main Street program, which started in Kansas in 1985, is based in the Community Development Division of the Kansas Department of Commerce & Housing.

The program provides management training, consultation visits, local-program evaluation, design assistance, business-enhancement strategies and incentive dollars in an effort to revitalize a community’s historic business district.

She said the program also will provide market analysis to discover how to enhance existing businesses and also identify new business that could be successfully started in a given community.

But Stinson stressed that local support and involvement will determine the program’s success.

“It’s not me, it’s not the Main Street program, it’s not the State of Kansas that bring magic to community,” she said. “It’s what you do.”

The first step is for a city to be accepted into the program-which is no small accomplishment. Twelve Kansas communities filled out the extensive application forms a year ago, but only one was accepted.

The application process begins in March with an instructional workshop. The inch-thick application is due in early June with a face-to-face presentation to the application committee to follow in mid-June. The committee will announce which cities have been accepted in early July.

Communities that are not chosen are told the reasons why, Stinson said, and are encouraged to reapply the following year.

Each community accepted into the program is required to appoint a local board and hire a paid director. In a community of 5,000 people or more, the position must be full-time. Communities under 5,000 can have a part-time director.

Once a community is accepted, the Main Street program will send representatives to check in periodically and hold the local board accountable for the goals it has set.

“It’s not just creating a plan,” she said, “it’s about implementing a plan.”

Eligible communities also qualify for funding for specific projects, including interest-free loans for approved businesses. Maximum funding from the state is $15,000, with matching amounts required from the city and the private sector.

She said cities accepted for the program are asked to sign a minimum five-year contract.

“To be honest, most cities are just starting to turn around after five years,” Stinson said.

Asked if the Main Street program removes the need for a Chamber of Commerce, Stinson said no.

“The Chamber of Commerce has a broader picture,” she said. “Main Street focuses on the central business district.”

In response to another question, Stinson said the Main Street program focuses on the historic central business district in a community, but, by extension, indirectly benefits newer developments, too, such as a Hillsboro Heights.

She said if a community struggles once it has been accepted into the Main Street program, the problem typically has been a lack of local funding. But those cases have been rare.

“Every community has had some level of success,” Stinson said. “No one has come away with nothing.”

Mayor Delores Dalke, who was instrumental in organizing the introductory meeting, said she had heard enough about the program at state and national meetings of municipalities that she thought Hillsboro should at least be informed of it.

She said as soon as the holiday season passes, a second meeting will called to test community interest. In addition to the general public, Dalke plans to invite representatives from other cities in the area that have participated in the program-both successfully and otherwise-to describe their experiences.

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