Kansas | 2005 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 5/9/2005
Named for a market center in Greece, Emporia, Kansas (Pop. 26,760) was founded in 1857 as a business venture. Located near the junction of the Neosho and Cottonwood Rivers, it was described as "the loveliest site in the world for a town." By 1870, the railroad, an educational institution, and retail and service businesses transformed what was once prairie land into a vibrant downtown. However, during the 1980s, major employers, like the railroad and hospital, had left town, causing a loss of population and high paying jobs. Emporia suffered during this time; the downtown lost its focus as the primary retail area and vacancy rates soared.
Guidance was needed to establish a plan to address the economic, visual, and promotional issues facing an area experiencing a crisis. In 1991, with this economic situation in mind, the Downtown Association, Chamber of Commerce, City and County Governments, and other cultural entities worked together to become a Main Street community.
Today, the vibrancy of the downtown is visible. Buildings can be renovated quicker as a result of a “Code Team” created by the Main Street program and the City of Emporia. Through this program, prospective developers and property owners can meet with people like the fire marshall, zoning and planning representatives, and Code Services personnel to discuss renovation options on site in just a few hours instead of two months.
Emporia Main Street made business development assistance a pillar of its program by offering tax rebates for building improvements, business incubator, educational training, and an innovative zero-percent revolving loan fund through the Kansas Main Street Incentive Without Walls program. Emporia made business retention a priority and filled more than 180,000 square feet of vacant retail space, reducing vacancy rate to four percent.
Through creating several critical partnerships, Emporia has transformed into a successful arts and entertainment district and created many public arts projects, which have helped to make the arts an important facet of downtown life. The Emporia Grand Theatre Alliance completed the $2.6 million Granada Capital Campaign to renovate a historic theatre and turn it into a multi-use community facility listed on the National Register. It has been a catalyst to spur new business along the district.
Downtown Emporia has made great strides, including the completion of a $2.3 million streetscape project; 408 amazing renovation projects and upper story developments that bring new life to downtown; a gain of 637 jobs and 124 new businesses; over $250,000 zero-percent improvement loans; 23 new housing units; completion of the new $17 million courthouse; and more than $40 million reinvestment dollars in the downtown.
Over the life of the Emporia Main Street program, every dollar of taxpayer money allocated downtown has resulted in $33 private investment. Today, its thriving downtown is a great source of pride for the people of Emporia and the surrounding communities.