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Emporia’s Art and Soul District

Casey Woods by Casey Woods, Executive Director | June 29, 2015

We’ve heard a lot about the “Black and Gold” District, but what about the other districts downtown?

Emporia has an unusually long downtown for a community of our size.  As a transportation hub at the intersection of a state and federal highway, and a community with a lot of great assets in our core, it makes sense that our size would stretch to meet the historical demand of our trade area.  Modernization of the downtown requires us to tie concepts to each of our anchors downtown to produce cohesiveness and improve the business climate for everyone.  This process is called Community Initiated Development.

A lot of you have heard of the “Black and Gold” district (Commercial Street in the 1100, 1000 and 900 Blocks), but that is only one area of many that we are currently working on.  Immediately south of the “Black and Gold” is an area we have dubbed the “Art and Soul” district.  The name, generated by the ever creative Bev Beers of theGranada Coffee Company, refers to the area around the 800 Block (there are no hard boundaries, so districts can bleed into adjacent areas).  The “art” references anchors like the Granada Theatre and the Emporia Arts Center.  The “soul” refers to the two historic churches on the east side of the 800 Block of Commercial Street.

Conceptually, the “Art and Soul” district should encourage community gathering, art, entertainment and events that enhance the district anchors.  Future business recruitment to the area should be cognizant of those uses and future development within those blocks should adhere to the CID design aesthetic, while promoting uses that capitalize on district anchors.  Funky businesses (like Eclectic Bikes), artisan concepts (like the Sweet Granada expansion) and area night life (like Mulready’s) are examples of future usage patterns.  In addition, the “Art and Soul” area lends itself to building rehabilitation or redevelopment in certain areas.

The partnership between Kevin Nelson and The Sweet Granada to convert what once was a garage, into the retail and production facility of the Sweet Granada is an example of redevelopment.  The Eclectic Bikes group is utilizing historic tax credits on their major building rehab to save and restore a historic store front.  But, there are buildings to be upgraded.  If other buildings in the area use the proper design aesthetic, they can increase their number of uses and their potential resale value.

Barriers to redevelopment and reuse of the area as a true “Art and Soul” hub include the hesitancy some property ownership groups, finding appropriate entrepreneurs as space becomes available and developing the resources available to enhance existing properties.  When working with artists, for example, the initial equipment or life safety building enhancements can be daunting.  Having a glass blowing studio in proximity to the Emporia Arts Center would be awesome, but we would have to find a way to work with a local entrepreneurial artist (or a group of them) to develop a fire rated facility that still had a retail component that could showcase work.

Some buildings within the area of the Art and Soul area need a substantial rehabilitation, while others are solid structures that simply need an aesthetic update.  For current businesses, we want to find updates that can enhance their cash flow (your building front is a billboard).  For property owners, we want to encourage ownership by individuals that can (and will) invest in their properties to convert them to their highest potential use.  When we look at buildings on the north or south of the west side of the 800 Block of Commercial, for example, we can see opportunity for major rehab.

The events and activities within this area can take a lot of parking, and that’s an area where we frankly got lucky.  The area religious institutions and entertainment venues often aren’t using parking at the same times, and we would encourage area businesses and organizations to work together to utilize all area parking options.  Beyond parking, the community nature of activities within the “Art and Soul” area can enhance all local proximate institutions if they can develop a consistent cooperative presence in the area.

The concept of sub-district planning automatically can create some trepidation.  There are businesses currently within the area that don’t “fit” the concept described, and that’s okay.  We can’t tell businesses where they can and can’t locate, and this is a LONG TERM plan.  The goal is to eventually shift usages until the businesses and organizations in the area have consistent demographic and consumer sharing.  We’ve also heard “why not call it the Granada District?”  Well, we don’t have the only Granada Theatre in the area.  And, the concept of what the Granada is and what it’s used for varies wildly from community to community (the Lawrence Granada is very different from the Kansas City Granada which is extremely different from the Emporia Granada).  So, we wanted a brand concept that could hold up regionally as we recruit development and business concepts to the area.

The Community Initiated Development Plan is the long term vision for downtown, and the community.  As the name would suggest, the COMMUNITY is responsible for INITIATING the PLAN.  We took a lot of community input in the construction of the plan, and we want to work with all of you to ensure that we can execute the concept.  You can help make the CID for the “Art and Soul” district (and other districts) a reality by communicating the plan and concepts to others (especially if you think they would be a good fit for the area) and letting us know what sort of help area individuals need.  Again, this won’t happen over night, but we are making progress in creating the type of Emporia that we all want and need.  Through measurable progress, we work together to get things done.

For more information, take a look at this week’s Emporia Main Street E-newsletter!

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.


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