By Pat Melgares, K-State Research and Extension news service


Manhattan, KS– An official with the Kansas Department of Commerce told a gathering of entrepreneurs and community planners recently that the agency has allotted $1.5 million in 2023 to help the state’s communities restore aging downtown areas.


Linda Hunsicker, a specialist with the Department of Commerce’s Community Development Block Grants program, said the funds take aim at blight in Kansas’ communities.


“The goal is to strategically invest grant funds to prevent the spread of blighted conditions to structures,” Hunsicker said. “We want communities to improve downtown buildings so that those buildings will continue to thrive in the communities and (residents) will have a nice, beautiful downtown.”


Hunsicker was the featured speaker during the Dec. 1 First Friday e-Call, a monthly online series hosted by K-State Research and Extension that helps to nurture small businesses and inspire entrepreneurship in Kansas. The online discussions, which routinely host dozens of Kansas citizens from the public and private sectors, are available free each month.


Hunsicker said the Kansas Department of Commerce provides grants through its’ Commercial Rehabilitation program. Working through their local government, private property owners can apply for up to $250,000 to rehabilitate blighted buildings.


A new funding cycle begins on Jan 2, 2023.


“Because we have such strong interest in this program, we will limit communities or units of government to one application,” Hunsicker said. “If we have money left on July 1 (2023), a city that was funded previously can come back in.”


Hunsicker said the awards are limited to communities based on their size. Governments in some larger communities – including Kansas City, Lawrence, Leavenworth, Manhattan, Overland Park, Topeka, Wichita and all of Johnson County – are not eligible for Commercial Rehabilitation grants, though they may be eligible for other programs offered through the Department of Commerce.


Property owners that are eligible for Commercial Rehabilitation grants must provide a 25% match, proving that the building proposed for rehabilitation is a blight and conditions exist that pose a threat to public health and safety.


Improvements are limited to improvements to the exterior portions of the building; asbestos abatement; lead-based paint evaluation and reduction; and correcting code violations. If the application includes a historic building, improvements must be approved by the Kansas Historical Society.


More information on the program, including eligibility, is available online from the Kansas Department of Commerce.


Hunsicker’s full talk and other First Friday presentations are available online from K-State Research and Extension