The development of loft apartments in the historic downtown Great Bend Zarah Hotel moved closer to a reality this week with the announcement that the project will receive a $1.425 million Moderate Income Housing Grant from the Kansas Housing Resource Corporation (KHRC).
The Great Bend City Council applied for the grant on behalf of Great Bend Economic Development Inc. This marked the third time GBED tried for the funding after being turned down in September 2021 and August 2022.
GBED sought the funds to build affordable housing in the Zarah, located at Main and Lakin. The building is owned by the MyTown organization and this is its project, GBED is merely helping facilitate it.
“This is exciting,” said Mark Bitter, representing MyTown. “There’s probably few people alive in Great Bend who remember seeing lights on in the upper floors of that building. That’s an intriguing thought.”
Dubbed the Lofts at the Zarah, they are looking at 24 units in the $6 million development. There will be some studio apartments renting for around $800 per month, one-bedroom apartments renting for around $1,000 and two-bedroom apartments renting for around $1,200.
If all goes well, Bitter said they hope to complete the work by the end of 2024 or early 2025.
“It’s going to be a good addition to the downtown,” he said. It will help alleviate the housing shortage without taxing city infrastructure and will add to the Barton County tax base.
But, he said, this hits at an even deeper level.
“This has been a goal for MyTown since we purchased that building in 2008,” Bitter said. So, it is a fulfillment of a dream they’ve had from the start.
“A lot of people have been supportive. We’re thankful for their support and involvement of the community,” he said.
“It shows that positive things can happen. If we work together, we can accomplish things that we might think are impossible.”
However. Bitter did temper his optimism. The paperwork has not been signed and there are still loose ends.
They expect to hear back from the KHRC within 45 days to finalize the grant.
Basically, this grant is what the KHRC calls “gap funding.” It will help leverage $1.425 million to help offset the multi-million-dollar project.
A lot of this money will come back to the community in the form of tax credits.
In order to make the project feasible, it relies on these historic tax credits, Bitter said. To be eligible for these, the developers have meet historic design and other requirements.
The state has a big influx of resources to help those with income from 60% to 150% of median household income, said Justin Pregont. Working with Mytown and GMLV Architects of Wichita, he is the owner of Pomeroy Development, an Atchison-based firm that specializes in renovating historic properties.
These resources target folks making $50,000 to $70,000, he said. For a lot of reasons, the employers are hearing from their potential employees that they don’t like the housing options in places like Atchison, Hayes, Great Bend and Fort Scott.
Looking at the Zarah, it is downtown and near a brewery, wine-tasting business, coffee shops and a movie theater. It has a lot going for it
But, rent is mostly a function of market and affordability. So, these new homes have to be considered affordable, meaning the tenants can’t be rent-burdened (the rent can’t be greater than 30% of their income as tracked by the KHRC).
Although most of the units will be “rent restricted,” there may be a couple available to tenants who exceed the income guidelines.
It has been determined there is adequate parking in the downtown area to accommodate the added residences.
Zarah tenants will not have designated spaces.
However, down the road as the downtown develops more, there may be a need for additional parking, she said,
According to the KHRC, the Moderate Income Housing Program (MIH) serves the needs of moderate-income households that typically don’t qualify for federal housing assistance. MIH grants and/or loans are awarded to cities and counties for down payment assistance or to develop multi-family rental units, single-family for-purchase homes, and infrastructure in communities with populations fewer than 60,000 people.