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City eyes stimulus funds for downtown lofts
Developing downtown seen eco devo tool that helps housing shortage
downtown loft pic
Shown is downtown Great Bend. The City Council Monday night gave its consensus to support a plan using federal stimulus funds to help develop downtown second floor lofts and businesses by paying for sprinkler systems and fire alarms.

 Although the Great Bend City Council wanted additional details, it was the consensus of the council Monday night to earmark half of the $2 million in COVID-19 American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funding the city will receive for subsiding sprinkler and fire alarm systems in downtown upstairs lofts and businesses. 

The use of the other half has yet to be determined, however City Administrator Kendal Francis and the council have discussed tapping some of the funding for automated water meters.

The COVID-19 Stimulus Package is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11 to speed up the COVID-19 pandemic and recession recovery. The first half of the funds should arrive in around 60 days, along with the final stipulations governing use of the money.

“What we are hoping to do is discuss the possibility of investing these funds in a manner that will promote growth and encourage substantial private investment in the community,” said a passionate Great Bend Economic Development Inc. President Sara Hayden, who championed the proposal. “The potential would exist for this investment to recreate recurring revenue to the city and for our community, allowing this gift to continue to grow and continually fund other types of projects.”

The idea is to generate recurring revenues through valuation increases caused by the investment, the growth of sales tax collections as the city attract more visitors, and the retention of local spending, she said.

The discussion came during a work session held following the regular council meeting called to talk about uses for the stimulus money. 

What is the proposal?

Under the proposal, the city would establish a defined area in the downtown corridor in which there would be a cost-sharing fire sprinkler and fire alarm program. It calls for paying 50% outright of the cost up front, and then structuring the other 50% of the cost as a forgivable loan.

That loan would be forgiven if the valuation increased enough over a specified time period. The recommendation would be 15 years for commercial space and 20 years for residential. 

“The reason we structured it this way is that we really felt like doing that second 50% as a forgivable loan really entices the property owner to make sure that they are investing in that property,” Hayden said. “In other words, we want to encourage them not to put a sleeping bag upstairs and call it a loft.”

As an example of what this means, if a property owner were to invest $200,000 into a residential loft, based on the current taxing percent and the mill levy, that investment would generate an extra $4,278 in property tax, with $1,246 of that being the city’s portion. That $1,246 would generate $24,920 in property taxes over a 20 year period. 

On the commercial side, that $200,000 would generate an extra $9,300 and property tax, with $2,712 With that being the city’s portion, and that $2,712 would generate $54,240 in property taxes over a 20 year period.

It’s estimated that fire sprinklers would cost around $3.50 a square feet per floor. So a two-story  building with a basement would cost around $31,725

There could be an extra cost to get the needed underground water line to the building and that would be approximately $10,000 per building.

Is there support?

Hayden met with downtown building owners an all were in favor of the project. Of those, 23 said they would want to move forward if the sprinkler costs were covered, three said that they were in favor but they’re already using their upper floor spaces, and there were a couple who are interested but would want to sell the floor to someone else for development.

“The money has a time line,” she said. It has to be spent by Dec. 31 of 2024.

“With this, we’re able to address two obstacles that we currently face,” Hayden said. First is the shortage in mid- to upper-income housing and the second is the economic shift with businesses looking at rural communities for expansion, bringing families to these rural communities.

“This project is not only going to help with the housing shortage, but also enhance business employee recruiting, drive capital investment and increases the tax basis,” she said.

She assured the council that this endeavor will meet the guidelines of the stimulus funding. It responds to a public health emergency with respect to COVID-19, its negative economic impacts including assistance to households small businesses and non-profits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality.

“Downtown becomes a recruitment tool for local businesses as they make efforts to attract workers,” she said. It helps economic development programs attract new businesses as they realize the lifestyle possibilities for their employees, and ultimately the entire city gains as property values and tax base increase, and it lessens the demand on the budget and the mill levy.

Council support

“When’s the last time we ever take a risk in Great Bend,” Mayor Cody Schmidt said, endorsing the idea. “We could turn around and take the $2 million and spend it in on water meters, you know what you’re getting, there’s no risk. But are we still going to be the same old Great Bend in six years from now?”

He said the governing body needs to think outside the box. 

Some on the council had questions about who would administer the funds, how the application process would work and the breakdown of residential versus commercial in the second-story spaces. Perhaps another work session will be held to delve into the matter more.

But, “who is in charge of making Great Bend better? We as a council are,” said Ward 2 Councilwoman Jolene Biggs. “We need to change our mindset so that we’re doing things that improve Great Bend and bring people in.”

Downtown support

Matt and Mayra Kurtz purchased Identifications in downtown Great Bend in 2019. They have been thinking about converting their second floor into a couple of lofts

“This would be a great step for us,” Matt told the council. “I just appreciate the fact you guys are even thinking about it.”

Chelsea Morris owns the building at Forest and Main where she has a photography study, but is eying upstairs improvements. “I bought the building with the intent of renovating the whole building, so renovating the second floor as loft space is something I’d love to do.”

She urged the council to look at the efforts of downtown business owners and the limitations the city puts on them through fire and other codes. “If we want growth, we have to do things that stimulate growth and we’re not doing that right now. This is an opportunity for that.”

What about water meters?

To totally fund what Hayden wanted and the total cost of the water meter project are about the same – roughly $2 million each. But, Hayden was seeking just half.

It was Francis who argued for the meters. This system would make it possible for city personnel to just drive by homes and get a water-use reading.

The city has over 6,000 meters which have a lifespan of about 20 years each. Such an automated system would reduce the need for meter readers, which are challenging positions to fill, and would pay for itself.

Great Bend City Council meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Great Bend City Council did Monday night:

• Heard from Matt Hiss who addressed the governing body regarding the Bird electric scooters. 

• Heard from Brandon Steinert, representative with Be Well Barton County who addressed Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan.

• Approved the placement the streetlights in the Quail Cove housing development cul-de-sac.

Developer Housing Opportunities Inc. requested five streetlights be placed by Wheatland Electric for the new addition. These lights will be placed at the intersection Eisenhower and Parrish, Parrish and Quail Cove and the remainder the lights will be in the cul-de-sac. 

Each light will cost $7 per light per month with no additional charges for installation, Public Works Director Jason Cauley said.

In the southwest part town, Quail Cove is a $4 million 12-unit HOI development adjacent to the current Cherry Village apartments for seniors and those with disabilities.

• Approved contracts with Venture Corporation for $130,000 and Cillessen and Sons Inc. for $14,460, for a total project cost $144,460. This is for the partial mill/overlay and markings for Taxiway A at the Great Bend Municipal Airport.

The Kansas Department Transportation will fund 90% the project. The estimated maximum city share the project is $16,550. Without unforeseen change orders, the city share will be $14,446, Airport Manager Martin Miller said.

• Heard a report from City Administrator Kendal Francis. He focused on ongoing projects.

• Heard a report from CVB/Community Coordinator Christina Hayes. She focused on upcoming events in Great Bend.

• Approved Summer Street Stroll and Thursday food truck event overnight parking reservations on Main, Lakin and Kansas streets to accommodate the food trailers on May 20, June 17, July 15, Aug. 19, Sept. 16 and Oct. 21. 

• Approved a one-day cereal-malt beverage License for Greg King with the Sunflower Shrine Club for the beer garden during June Jaunt on June 5 in Jack Kilby Square.

• Approved a tree trimmers License for Mason’s Tree Service (Ricky Mason) out Goodland. 

• Held a work session to discuss the American Rescue Plan stimulus funding. The consensus of the council was to earmark half of the $2 million the city will receive for subsiding sprinkler and fire alarm systems in downtown upstairs lofts and businesses. 

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package or American Rescue Plan, is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11 to speed up the recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing recession.

It provides $350 billion to help states, counties and cities.

• Approved abatements for motor vehicle nuisance violations at: 200 Locust, Leese Maupin; 1408 12th, Stacey Farris; 2910 19th, Donald Lemon; and 1400 12th, Stacey Farris.

• Approved abatements for accumulation trash and refuse violations at: 219 Holland, Daniel Salinas; 212 Chestnut, Sandra Alarcon; 517 3rd, Sandra Reyes; 1814 Baker, Larry and Sheree Marshall, 1805 8th, Guadalupe Alvarado; 412 Pine, Todd and Heather Coine; 919 Stone, TMS Rentals LLC.; 401 3rd, Myron Watkins; 405 3rd, Leobardo Ruiz; 1504 12th, Hammond Investments LLC.; 400 Plum, WHB Inc.; 1019 Jefferson, Tyson Sanders; 1217 Madison, Thomas Pearson; 715 lOth, Walter Family Enterprises Inc.; 3417 Broadway, Katharine Piper; 2539 7th, Raymond Amador; 2210 25th, Genea Potter; 1200 Hubbard, Marcelo and Sonia Bujanda; 5708 Hemlock, Stacey Farris; 2316 8th, Ever Ontiveros Lomas; 1823 Heizer, Thomas Pearson; 1434 9th, Anita Stos; 216 Chestnut, Santiago Nunez; 1007 1Oth, Sharilyn Mulnix; 909 Pine, Jose Valles and Maria Rincon; 924 Main, CP Real Estate LLC.; 926 Main, CP Real Estate LLC.; 1212 Baker, Rick Suchy; 1123 1Oth, Paradise Property Management LLC.; 1412 9th, Dennis Brack; 1402 Lakin, Fredrick Mitchell Jr.; 1515 Kansas, Verne Stork Trust #1; 304 Buckeye, Elsa Patricio Cortez; 501 3rd, Ana Recio Contreras; 223 Holland, Bibiana Ramona Cabrales; 819 Adams, Tony Jones; 812 Jefferson, Fernando Guerra and Mario Zamora; 1808 Baker, Michael and Rhonda Shelton; 1306 Baker, Atanacio and Teresa Resendiz; 2200 Adams, Gilbert and Mary Lou Mendez; 1409 Heizer, Martin and Iris House Revocable Trust; 1300 9th, James Hanks, Jr.; 1304 9th, Miguel and Gloria Mota; 916 9th, Sandpiper Mobile Holdings LLC.; 420 Buckeye, Nancy Strain; 1014 Morphy, Opa Ferguson; 1310 Morphy, Stueder Rentals LLC.; 000 Madison, Jon Welch; and 915 Stone, Walter Family Enterprises Inc.