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City cuts Main Street Program ribbon
Program gives GB access to resources for downtown development
main street ribbon cutting
Scott Sewell, director of the Kansas Mains Street Program, joins Sara Hayden, president of Great Bend Economic Development Inc., in cutting the ribbon announcing Great Bend’s re-entry into the program, Tuesday afternoon at Forest and Williams. Also pictured are state officials, GBED staff and board, community leaders and representatives from the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

In April, Great Bend was one of three Kansas cities to rejoin the Kansas Mains Street Program, which aims to  preserve downtowns. On Tuesday afternoon at the corner of Williams and Forest, officials gathered for a ribbon cutting to mark the occasion.

“The mainstream approach was developed over 40 years ago nationally as an economic development tool for communities to revitalize their downtown commercial districts,” said Scott Sewell, director of Kansas Main Street. “And you do that within the context of the historic fabric that’s in your downtown that’s really not found anywhere else in your community.”

The Main Street Program falls under the Kansas Department of Commerce’s Community Development Division.  

Ever since Great Bend Economic Development Inc. President Sara Hayden and Sewell have discussed getting back into the program, he said he’s seen “some really positive things going on here.” These include the murals and the downtown loft program.

“You’ve got some great development projects that are happening in downtown buildings,” he said. It is about more than filling ground-level storefronts, but also “looking up and filling those upper floor spaces. And it seems like there’s a lot of momentum here to do that.”

“I hope this community can see how much of an effort we’ve put into downtown revitalization and making sure that this really is the best eyes to our community that we can put forward,” Hayden said. “Having an organization that has that same goal in mind, and is a lot larger than us and can provide support and partnership, means the world. It just means that we can move further faster.”

Locally, the Main Street designation is housed with the Great Bend Alive arm of GBED, Hayden said.

“The buildings here are unique to Great Bend,” Sewell said. And from the initiative, cities get technical training, resources and assistance to help in their efforts to make sure their downtowns stay healthy and viable,

“We’re not really a funding organization,” Sewell said. However, they do occasionally have grants available.

“But, the idea is that the capacity and the commitment to really bring about long-term change in your downtown comes from the local people,” he said. “They’re the ones who make it happen and we just help guide them and give them directions.”

Now that Great Bend is back in the program, it can remain involved as long as it wants, Sewell said, noting there is no charge to participate other than continued efforts to improve.

“Basically I tell communities ‘if you’re active and engaged with us and want our help, then we’re here to give that help,’” he said. “Like I said, the capacity and the commitment really has to be made locally.”

Also at no cost, Main Street offers quarterly training sessions on such topics as tourism, upper floor development and entrepreneurship.

Great Bend had been a part of Main Street back in the mid 1990s. But, for whatever reason, it dropped out, he said. This is not uncommon as communities change, people change, and focuses and priorities change.

Main Street initially launched in 1985. Then, in 2012, Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration ended the program. It was restarted in 2019 by Governor Kelly with support from the Legislature.

“So we’re excited that with Sara and the group here, there’s enough momentum to be back in the program,” Sewell said. “We’re glad to have them come back.”