The momentum has been gathering for the past five years and now MyTown wants to look at new downtown possibilities.
One item on the wish list is the transformation of some upper floors of downtown buildings from wasted space into residential lofts. The other is a fine-dining restaurant.
“We are researching what other communities have done in these two areas,” MyTown Board member Mark Bitter said. “As we celebrate our fifth anniversary we want to continue our vision.
“MyTown always seeks partners who share our goals, and city leaders have proven they also want to make positive things happen in Great Bend,” Bitter added.
For instance, he explained, the city has invested in the new community-coordinator position, Main Street diagonal parking and Jack Kilby Square Christmas lights.
“All these factors have helped us energize the downtown business community and we could keep this energy going with unique retail outlets and residential lofts,” Bitter said. “MyTown was the tipping point to increasing foot traffic five years ago and it will hopefully play a major role in the future.
“Nevertheless,” he added, “it is the shoppers from Great Bend and the rest of central Kansas who deserve the real credit. They are responsible for the strong growth, increased sales and increased sales-tax collections. Thanks to them the blight of empty storefronts is gone.”
The Great Bend Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development also has made vital contributions that go back several years, Bitter said. It helped with research before MyTown began opening its first stores in November 2008.
Jan Peters, MyTown board member and chamber president, noted MyTown has had, and will continue to have, a significant impact.
“We used to have a slow-paced downtown but now it is a vibrant area filled with shopping and special events,” Peters said. “New businesses have sprung up and many have expanded. The Golden Belt Cinema 6 movie theater and the retail stores attract people from throughout the region.
“One goal was to attract and retain employees by providing an exciting area to meet family and friends,” Peters continued. “This is now a reality because of MyTown.”
Sheryl Cheely, MyTown board member, said the organization was born when local business leaders Mark Mingenback, Bob Dema and Mark Bitter met for breakfast about six years ago.
“Because of that meeting, about 50 local investors made this happen,” Cheely said. “These people donated money and time with no expectation of personal financial return. The range of early contributions was $10,000 to $250,000.”
The early MyTown ventures were Renue Salon & Day Spa, Perks Coffee Shop and Heart of Kansas Mercantile. Each is still serving downtown customers; the other current MyTown store is Miss Pretty Pickles.
Others started coming along because MyTown was here, Cheely said. Examples are Gambino’s Pizza, Yours Truly and The Craft Coop. These stores pay rent to the organization.
In addition, Cheely continued, “we really doubt that the six-screen theater would have been built without MyTown. It’s safe to say our downtown would look like too many other communities with empty storefronts if it weren’t for MyTown.
“While we always have our eye on the retail mix, it is time to pursue residential lofts and an upscale restaurant,” she added. “They would fit in quite nicely with this new, reinvigorated downtown.