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New Incentives to Aid in Building Development

Avatar photo by Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator | April 24, 2024

New incentives to aid in redevelopment, and strategies to “right size” buildings

Development opportunities are important to the future of the community. Ensuring that existing buildings are utilized can assist in growing a vibrant entrepreneurial class, and can aid in creating housing opportunities that are vital to community success. Incentives that aid in redevelopment can simultaneously inspire developers and make better rehabilitation projects possible. Below are a few opportunities for local developers to engage projects in downtown Emporia.

ROOMS Grants for upper story housing- The ROOMS Grant is a matching grant for upper story downtown housing development in accredited Kansas Main Street communities (like Emporia). This $50,000 grant with a minimum 1:1 match has other qualifying components and the grant proposal must be submitted in partnership with the local accredited Main Street program. The turnaround time on grant submission is fairly quick, so interested parties should contact the Emporia Main Street office soon. For additional information, please CLICK HERE.

Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)- The CDBG program is an umbrella program that can fund several types of projects. One subset of the program deals specifically with downtown development. The program is competitive and used for larger projects that meet specific programmatic goals. The City of Emporia can submit one downtown variant of the CDBG application per year, and grants cannot be considered by the state while other CDBG grants are open in the same community. Recent local interest in the program has encouraged the City of Emporia to adopt a new consideration policy (please see below).
Historic Grants- The Historic Preservation Fund is designed to assist with preservation and preservation planning activities for historic structures and/or contributors to historic districts (like the downtown historic district in Emporia). Grant applications are due soon! Please CLICK HERE for more HPF information.

Turnbull Loans- Turnbull upper story housing development loans are a relatively new incentive to facilitate upper story downtown development. These zero interest loans partner with traditional financing to facilitate development projects. To inquire about the Turnbull Loan process, please contact Emporia Main Street.

What are the development opportunities in the downtown? Vacancies in the downtown generally fall into four distinct buckets, and all four have strategies that could be used to activate facilities:
Oversized buildings that either need reconfigured or need to house a vignette style business.- Business styles change over time. There was a period where retail department stores ruled, and “bigger is better” building demands resulted in multiple downtown storefronts being fused together. Newer business styles require much less square footage due to faster shipping times or “in-house” supply chain styles. 

THE STRATEGY: Split buildings into their original storefront dimensions. The Graves building or the former Newman Department Store each once housed three separate twenty-five foot storefront bays (instead of their existing seventy-five foot single storefront). Maintaining (or building) appropriate upper story and basement access is critical, but the three separate storefronts are more valuable and more rentable than a singular oversized space. 

THE PLAY: Utilizing a mixture of tax credits, grants, and alternative financing in addition to traditional finance can help reduce the net cost of development. Holding the finished property for a period of time to allow for rental income (and the absorption of alternative finance incentives) followed by the sale of split property bays can allow for development profit.

Buildings that have owners with some sort of emotional or inappropriate use attachment that just won’t let go.- These are the most asked about properties in downtown, and would rent or sell quickly if they were actually on the market and priced fairly. Think of Stanley Jewelry, New For You, or the “Family Video” properties downtown. Peer pressure coupled with offers to help move items out of the building to facilitate its rental/sale are sadly one of the few options available unless the local municipality wants to get involved. 

THE STRATEGY: Keep lines of communication open, and be ready to move on opportunities. But caution is warranted. If a building hasn’t been occupied in years, maintenance issues can occur. 

THE PLAY: Understanding building condition and maintaining a solid relationship with local financial institutions can provide budget flexibility that allows for faster movement once a building becomes available. For most long term vacancies, local developers will be celebrated for pushing properties back into productive use.

Major rehab projects- Some long term vacancies, buildings that were left unfinished in a redevelopment project, or deferred maintenance projects that result in substandard properties can be a daunting project AND an exciting opportunity. 

THE STRATEGY: Develop a financial approach coupled with potential uses, THEN reach out to building ownership. There may be opportunities to engage the local landbank as an intermediary to hold the property while financial pieces are put in place. Some programs like CDBG and emergency historic grants can help fix structural issues and/or repair the building envelope while programming is developed. 

THE PLAY: It is important to view major rehabilitation projects in phases. For most of these projects, historic tax credit usage is critical, and phased approaches to tax credits can help make costs more palatable. Coordination with Emporia Main Street can allow more consistent access to funding and “another set of eyes” to keep the project on schedule.

Infill opportunities- There are some vacant lots and nonconforming uses in the downtown that can be scraped and converted to infill development opportunities. Think of the former Bruff’s lot, residential housing on Commercial, or empty lot areas as options for infill development. 

The Strategy: It’s important to understand downtown master planning and usage focuses when engaging infill. Downtown design standards call for uniform lot lines (buildings built to the sidewalk that line up with other commercial structures), building materials (brick and stone), and usage patterns (first floor commercial uses with upper story residential or commercial uses). It’s also important to understand the prevailing strategy where you are developing. Developing close to campus should embrace college centric business types. Buildouts towards the center of downtown should focus on traditional retail, arts, restaurants, and other business types consistent with traditional downtown usage. Developments closer to the courthouse should embrace service agencies consistent with the courthouse anchor. Further south allows for an eclectic mix of startups. 

THE PLAY: It is important to understand sizing of your potential development and the quantity of land you need to acquire to make a development work. Some incentives that are available for building rehabilitations are not available for infill development, but there are some assistance options. Working with Main Street and the City of Emporia early in your development planning can expedite your buildout.

There are opportunities to buildout the community, assist businesses in startup mode, create housing, allow for commercial expansions, and improve your community. Vacancies occur, but with the right plan, resources, help, financing, and market understanding you can convert vacancies to community assets. For more information, please contact Emporia Main Street.

About the Author

Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator

Jessica Buchholz is the Community Development Coordinator for Emporia Main Street in Emporia, Kansas. She specializes in event planning, volunteer recruitment, alternative marketing, media/public relations and fundraising. During Jessica's tenure at Emporia Main Street, she has helped grow events to an international level and she has created a series of new activities to meet organizational goals.