What do you see when you come to downtown Leavenworth?

What do you see when you come to downtown Leavenworth? Shoppers, traffic, cars parked on the street, interesting old buildings and unique signage?

You also may see some vacant storefronts and upper stories that appear empty? All of these are signs of economic development and revitalization. Yes, even vacant storefronts and upper stories are a part of economic development. Downtown Leavenworth is no different from other commercial districts. Businesses come and go, buildings change hands and sometimes bankruptcies occur, all contributing to economic development.

The good news is that more retail businesses are opening than closing, some are growing and expanding, the majority are successful and downtown employment is good. In 2012, 15 new businesses opened, 10 closed, netting 5 new businesses and 23 new employees. The business closings in 2012 were due to retirement, military transfer, unpaid taxes, landlord/tenant issues, relocation and business downsizing. However two buildings were sold which now, in 2013, house an expanded business and restaurant.

Statistics from 1995 – 2012 show 93 net new businesses and 396 net new jobs downtown. Keeping our downtown viable doesn't just happen on its own. It takes the hard work of small business owners and entrepreneurs, with help from the Leavenworth Main Street Program, Inc. LMS provides resources and opportunities to open, grow and expand businesses which improve the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of historic downtown Leavenworth.
Leavenworth Main Street works consistently with existing business owners and entrepreneurs to maintain full storefronts, offer products and services that our community and visitors need, find useful and interesting, and that offer a fun experience. The organization also acts as a liaison between city and county government and other business entities. In addition, LMS actively pursues grant funding for business growth and development, upper-story development and other related downtown projects.

An important part of Leavenworth Main Street's efforts involve resources for "gap" funding, enabling business owners a way to move forward with building renovation or business expansion projects through no-interest, matching loans.

During the past 12 years, LMS has been instrumental in providing 31 downtown business projects with funding support through programs such as Incentives Without Walls (IWW) and Network Kansas. Why is this important? Investment in our downtown district means more investment dollars for the City as a whole:

A total of $825,500 in funding generated an additional $4 million in matching funds by business owners.The total downtown investment since Leavenworth Main Street began in 1995 through 2012 is $35.7 million.The current downtown property tax values are $39 million (excluding public properties), generating $1.4 million in annual property tax dollars.Another important concept for Leavenworth Main Street is historic preservation. Leavenworth is the First City of Kansas, a designation that belongs to no one else! We should cherish and build upon our historic buildings; they are built to last with quality materials and are already a part of the current infrastructure. LMS encourages adapting and managing change in these building for use in the 21st century and beyond. Once historic buildings are torn down, their architecture and significant place in our city's history are gone forever.

Historic preservation is an economic development tool that can also position our downtown as a unique shopping environment that shopping malls, strip centers or big box retailers cannot provide. LMS works with building owners and merchants on creative façades that reinforce their building's originality. We offer ideas for signage, awnings, color selection, scale and proportion that enhance the historic district. Business owners can access our "Toolkit for Success", a guide to building restoration and renovation, as a resource for their projects.
Without a strong organization such as LMS, our built history would be lost. LMS recently saved four buildings from demolition by finding building owners/investors who were up for the challenges and rewards of fixing old, crumbling structures. Not only were historic structures saved, but new retail space is now available and/or leased, as well as amazing upper story apartments. These downtown enhancements benefit the community as well as the state through increased property and sales tax revenue.

Many people may not realize that LMS directly affected the construction of Haymarket Square. By working with students on an initial concept drawing, our organization created a public awareness campaign of the need for a covered, outdoor gathering space. We worked closely with city commissioners and staff to move the project forward in the city's capital improvement projects. And throughout the project, we participated and monitored the progress with City staff to keep costs from escalating. Since 2008, we have had a beautiful, open air, unique community facility for all to enjoy.

Life changes and so has the downtown – Learn to LIVE LOCAL and have fun – you, your local businesses, organizations, churches and community will reap the rewards many times over!

Wendy Scheidt is executive director of Leavenworth Main Street Program, Inc. She can be reached at 913-682-3924 or director@leavenworthmainstreet.com.