Peabody revitalizing downtown with help of a grant

109 N. Walnut is one of the buildings in Peabody that is being renovated thanks to fundraising and a grant that the Peabody Main Street Association (PBMA) has been working on. PBMA has been working along with the Department of Commerce to preserve and revitalize the downtown district of Peabody.

by Laura Fowler Paulus

While many small towns in Kansas have their downtown districts emptying out and buildings falling into decay, Peabody is working on fixing theirs up. This is all thanks to the Peabody Main Street Association ((PMSA), a Kansas registered 501(c)3 non-profit community development organization, that focuses on downtown preservation and revitalization.

“All the buildings in our downtown business district are on the National Register of Historic Places because of their unique architecture. Only a few of those even exist in the entire country. Our group’s focus is on preserving that architecture and also assisting commerce in that district,” said Morgan Marler board member for PMSA.

The organization has been working on helping get businesses into the buildings, helping business owners with their unique struggles and generally speaking just keeping downtown Peabody alive. PMSA started in 1989, and since then they have been involved in hundreds of projects.

Marler said, “Our most recent big project was the rehabilitation of six downtown buildings that were all connected together when Baker Furniture and Carpet owned them. And then finding new owners that would continue the rehabilitation process.”

Marler explained that Bakers moved to the outlet mall in Newton. PMSA acquired the empty buildings after they had been on the market for several years.

“After a couple of years and several failed attempts with regional developers, we realized that we couldn’t successfully rely on someone from outside the community to come in and save our historic buildings. We had to do it ourselves. We needed to figure out a method of successfully saving ourselves. We applied for and received the Heritage Trust Fund Grant from the Kansas State Historical Society and we secured additional funding from generous local donors,” said Marler.

This allowed them to replace the roofs on the buildings— some of which had already collapsed—the others in a terrible state. They were leaking and the wooden roof trusses were rotten and close to complete collapse. What started out as small leaks when the buildings were first put on the market, turned into huge leaks that were allowing the buildings to deteriorate quite rapidly.

Marler said, “After repairing the roofs, we then opened up an application period where entrepreneurs could apply for one of the buildings and get it for free. The caveat being they had to bring the building up to code and put in a retail or commercial business on the first floor and living space upstairs.”

That project spanned 7 years from start to finish and there are now five businesses in those buildings with one empty building yet to be filled.

“Currently, we have ten interested parties that have contacted us about the last remaining building.” said Marler.

Now they are working on a new project with the help of a new grant.

“A couple of years ago, PMSA was gifted two downtown buildings (107 and 109 N. Walnut) by two different individuals who acquired the buildings with the hopes of seeing them restored. The roofs had been leaking for decades and the damage was so severe that the buildings were deemed unsafe to even enter. Collapse of the roofs was imminent,” said Marler.

PMSA applied for and received a $65,000 HEAL grant from the Department of Commerce. The $65,000 matching funds were contributed by a longtime local supporter of the organization. As a result, one of those roofs has now been completely replaced. With construction on the other building to begin within the next couple of weeks. PMSA has not yet determined the method they will use to return these buildings back to private ownership.

In addition to downtown building rehabilitation projects, PMSA also has annual activities that they do downtown, similar to what a Chamber of Commerce might do. For example, they host a Trunk or Treat on Halloween and an annual Holiday Shopping Spree at Christmas time to entice residents to shop at home during the Christmas season.

While Marler brags about the hearts of Peabody folk and their willingness to pitch in, she is also quick to credit the partnership of others who have made all of the progress possible.

She said, “PMSA and the residents of Peabody are very thankful for the vision and commitment to small, rural Kansas communities that Governor Laura Kelly and the Department of Commerce have shown. Through these types of grant programs, we have been able to save many of our historic downtown buildings and this will allow our business district to continue to thrive for many years to come.”

But in spite of all the help, there is still more work to be done. Marler explains that they can always use volunteers.

“Peabody doesn’t have the luxury of a large, paid, city staff to tackle typical maintenance projects throughout town. We have always relied on an army of volunteers to complete those tasks. So, please let us know if you have extra time and energy and want to be on a committee,” said Marler.

She also said they will never turn down money since there are plenty of projects that need to be funded not only through PMSA but also the Historical Society and the Sunflower Theater group which is restoring the 1920’s downtown theater.

She reminds everyone to shop locally no matter what the town.

“Keep the small, independent businesses alive in your rural community. It’s the unique, diverse heartbeat of every community —and we’re losing those small businesses faster and faster every day. If you don’t have the money to spend in their shops, support them by sharing their information on social media and spreading the word about your favorite downtown business. Or just go in and say ‘hi’ and ‘thank you for being here’. It’s hard right now for those small, independent retailers—they need our support,” said Marler.

For more information or to see how you can help, call Morgan Marler at 620-877-7407, email her at shaneandmorgan@yahoo.com or see the PMSA Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/peabodymainstreet.

The Peabody Main Street Association received a $65,000 HEAL grant from the Department of Commerce and matching funds from a local supporter to repair the roof of a downtown building that was donated to the organization to help preserve and revitalize the downtown district.

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