There was a big party in downtown Peabody on May 1 as the community came together to celebrate the news that they had been awarded a $1.5 million BASE Grant to help improve and restore their downtown district.
Background on BASE Grants
The Kansas Department of Commerce recently announced a $50 million second round of projects under the Building a Stronger Economy (BASE) grant program. The new round will continue addressing infrastructure and economic development needs that were delayed or slowed due to COVID-19 in an effort to expand the state’s base of businesses and residents.
The additional funds were designated by the Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) Executive Committee and approved by the State Finance Council in December.
“The base grant is a Kansas Department of Commerce program. And it is funded from ARPA funds that were provided to the state back in 2021,” said Jonathan Clayton, Director of Economic Recovery for the Kansas Department of Commerce. “This is the second round of the base grant that was around almost the same time last year.”
Clayton explained that the first round was for one hundred million dollars.
“They had 446 applications last year. They made 35 awards before they ran out of money. So they had 411 that were not awarded last year. This year when they reopened the program, they allowed all of last year’s non-recipients to be automatically included,” Clayton said. “The program received 102 new applications for round two as well as the 411 from last year for a total of 513 requests. And they awarded 38 and they only had 50 million to go around. So they were smaller awards, but they did more of them.”
This new round followed the same regulations established for the first round, including the requirement that awardees provide a 25% match.
County and local governments, economic development organizations, local chambers of commerce, and other stakeholders were eligible to apply.
Several Marion County towns applied for the second round of the grant and it was announced at the end of April that Peabody Main Street Association (PBMS) was awarded the $1.5 million of the grant.
PMSA’s road to being awarded the grant
PMSA is Peabody’s 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.
“We first decided to apply for this grant for our own downtown buildings. During our discussions, we thought about the potential of this grant and how it could also help other building owners in the historic downtown district. So, we took the plunge and used our leadership role in the community to bring everyone together for a discussion about this,” said Marler.
From the time the BASE grant was announced, the group only had a couple of weeks to get all the building owners and the City Council together, present the concept to them, prepare the required documents and get the application into the Department of Commerce.
Each building owner identified the projects that they felt were most important to them to keep them going. The official scope had some limitations, so all projects had to fit those limitations. Projects such as roof replacement, HVAC, new windows, utility upgrades and more are allowable uses of the funding.
After identifying the needs, then each building owner needed to acquire three contractors’ quotes for each of their projects. PMSA asked the building owners to try and limit their needs request to $50,0000.
Marler said, “It was crazy—I didn’t think there was any possible way we could get all the documentation needed for the application in such a short time. But, we did! Our local contractors are awesome. They essentially dropped their projects—whatever they were doing at the time—and started looking at the projects and putting together quotes.”
Clayton added, “Peabody had a very impactful application. It was something that they took a lot of time with. They did an open call to every property owner in the district if they wanted to participate in the grant. And in the application.”
In the end, the application for the grant included 29 individual buildings plus a downtown streetscape component for the City of Peabody and came in at a request for close to $3 million. But Marler feels they could have easily asked for six million due to the many needs of the historic buildings.
“I’m so proud of all the downtown building owners, our City Council and the PMSA board. And, it was an awesome feeling to send in that application. Even if we didn’t receive any funding, it felt great for all of us to come together on a project like this—all of us working on the same goal. That alone, was worth the extraordinary effort,” said Marler.
“Everything has been like hurry up and wait. They had to hurry because the application was only open in the month of January. So they hurried up and get that done. And then they didn’t find out until April 25th,” said Clayton.
Marler said, “Finally, the Department of Commerce announced the recipients. And, Peabody was on the list.”
They did not receive the full funding request. But they did receive half of it— $1.5 million.
Clayton pointed out that the grant was awarded to the Peabody Main Street Association.
He said, “Not to the city, not to any individual but to the Peabody Main Street Association.
PMSA went back to the building owners and asked them to choose their number one priority from the original list of project applications they submitted. Asa result, PMSA will be able to fund everyone’s number one priority, help with the Sunflower Theater renovations and also provide new sidewalks for the downtown district.
“We couldn’t be happier. We will now have to put all those 29 prioritized projects out to bid for construction. We are anxious to get these projects rolling,” said Marler.
PMSA has already been able to raise the funds for the required 25% match of the $1.5 million dollars.
In the past year, PMSA applied for and received a $65,000 HEAL grant from the Department of Commerce. This amount was matched with funds that were contributed by a longtime local supporter of the organization.
“They already met that because they had been awarded other programs in the previous couple of years. The Sunflower had historic preservation tax credits through the Heritage Trust Fund. And then the city is starting its big water project and they were awarded a $1 million forgivable loan from KDHE,” said Clayton. “So there’s no new money that the city or the residents have to spend in order to get this grant. They already met the master requirements in advance which is a huge benefit for them.”
PMSA now has two years to complete its projects and utilize all awarded and required matching funds. Applications submitted were required to document how the project was delayed or affected negatively due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting downturn in economic conditions.
In addition to all the repair work to the downtown buildings, the grant will also be used to get two fairly substantial new businesses off the ground for Peabody. An automotive repair and fabrication business will be partially funded and a downtown building that has been out of use for 20 years will be pulled back into rotation for the community’s enjoyment of a new business being launched in it.
“Longtime Peabody residents will enjoy seeing this old building with its doors open, once again. Additionally, one of PMSA’s downtown buildings is under contract for a fabulous new home goods store that is scheduled to open close to Thanksgiving. This new business will be going into one of the buildings that we used the HEAL grant to put a new roof on. We signed the lease agreement last week,” said Marler.
The excitement is clear.
“When our PMSA board was presented with the idea of applying for the BASE Grant 2.0 to get the association-owned properties into working order, we were over the moon with the idea. But our mission is to aid in supporting the economy of the whole city, so we decided to open this opportunity to the community. The key point of this program is to provide a ‘catalytic impact’ on the groups that are awarded money. How much more catalytic of an impact can $1.5 million be in Peabody? Although we applied for just under $3 million, I could not be any happier that we were selected AND able to share this catalytic impact with our community. Grant funding is one of the only ways that the city can afford to do projects such as a streetscape in the historic district. These improvements then lead to other properties making improvements, which then lead to better values for all properties in our city. These are the key things that allow for better funding for small cities to be able to make the changes citizens want,” said Peabody Mayor Lindsay Hutchison.
Hutchison went on to say that sometimes the other members of communities need to visualize the impact before they are ready to jump in.
“This grant will make that possible. My hope is that as we start to see progress, more people decide that our community is worth the fight. We deserve to keep the city the warm and welcoming home that we all know it to be, but also open it up to new friends. Friends who want to join our family and build this community bigger and better than any of us could have dreamed.” Hutchison said.
Marler added, “Our community is continually grateful for the Laura Kelly administration and the dedication they have to rural Kansas communities. Time and again, she proves to us that she cares what happens in small, rural towns. Peabody has been fortunate to receive funding from several different sources to help us maintain our historic downtown district and that has a huge economic impact on our community.”