By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
Editor’s note: Economic Development Director Jeff Parsons presented a plan to the Liberal City Commission during its Dec. 21, 2009, meeting to attract businesses to the area. His proposal was met with the praise and unanimous approval of the commission. This is part three in a three-part series that will explore the details of Parsons’ 2010 Economic Development Programs. The programs are a way of “setting the table” to attract businesses to Liberal, according to Parsons.
Economic Development Director Jeff Parsons believes whole heartedly that a city is judged very much by its downtown area. With that in mind, Parsons has devoted an entire third of the 2010 Economic Development Program to Liberal’s downtown area.
Parsons explained how important it is to feel some connectivity throughout the downtown area. He believes a fence and enlarged parking lot at the Rock Island Depot will accomplish just that. A budget of $75,000 has been set aside out of one-cent sales tax funds to complete the project.
“Tobias Park from one end of the downtown area then the depot area on the other end, the idea sort of connects downtown,” he said. “That is sort of the function. We can use this parking lot for Farmer’s Market, you can do little events there if the downtown area wants to have an event, that will give them enough room to do that along with being parking for the depot. It kind of connects downtown together and really helps the aesthetics of downtown as well.”
The other three components of the Downtown Revitalization Program focus on filling up buildings in the downtown corridor.
The Downtown Building Conversion Grant will utilize $50,000 to assist owners or tenants wishing to convert retail to office space, or vice versa.
“The building conversion grant, if someone has a building there they want to use it and convert the use of it, we will help with that,” Parsons said. “It is basically the same program as facade, but it will help the inside – it is for a change in use. We aren’t going to just give you $5,000 to fix up your building. But if you are going to change it from retail to office, our focus here is not necessarily the project itself, but getting someone into downtown.”
The Downtown Office Relocation Grant has been allotted $30,000 in order to offer assistance to businesses wishing to move their office or professional businesses to the downtown area.
“The relocation grant is for someone moving into downtown. This is a $1,500 grant that is an incentive for somebody to come in,” he said. “It’s not paid out until they have been at their location for a year. The others are paid on a reimbursement basis, the business does the remodeling, when it is finished we want to make sure they have paid it and it has gone through the bank and cleared. Then we will reimburse them for that money. This one isn’t that way. They can apply for it and then they have to be at their business for a year.”
The program Parsons is most excited to announce is the Downtown Mixed-Use Building Conversion Grant. The program, with a proposed budget of $30,000, offers business owners $5,000 of assistance with converting second-floor space into residential dwellings.
“The one that I think could be the most fun and the most exciting, I don’t know whether it will be successful or not, is the mixed use,” Parsons said. “It’s a traffic creator. People are downtown seven days a week if they live downtown. They are in and out, moving around and it creates activity. That is a good thing. The $5,000 isn’t going to be a make or break thing, and they are still going to have to have permits and everything is going to have to be right.”
Parsons believes those utilizing the programs will be worth the investment.
“These require the business to invest just as much as we invest,” he said. “The businesses are actually investing more than the city. All of it is one-cent sales tax funded. Just come down to City Hall, we have all the paperwork. We try to make it as simple as possible.”