Downtown makeover will take effort
Plans to improve downtown Marion are in motion, but there is work to be done before significant changes take place.
In the next couple of weeks, the Main Street surface will be milled and replaced with new asphalt. All parking spaces will be redefined as well.
“The grand vision is to revitalize downtown to be a destination where people, more than just commerce, can come in, sit down and enjoy it,” Economic Development Director Roger Holter said.
To begin the revitalization, Holter must get consent from the Board of Education and City Council, in addition to the hospital district and County Commission, which he already has.
An original revitalization agreement was entered into in 2002 and renewed in 2008.
“I’m not trying to rubber-stamp an existing government program that’s been out there for 2002,” Holter said. “I’m trying to get out and do the face-to-face meetings and help everybody understand not necessarily what’s possible, but what should be probable for our community.”
Holter said there is opportunity to add evening dining spots and retail stores. Part of his job will be to identify and present Marion’s value to potential businesses.
“Our city needs a general retailer,” Holter said. “Since I’ve been in the position in June, I’ve been reaching out to many of the national retailers, working with their site selection teams, marketing and selling the idea of Marion, and what the advantages are should they consider our town.”
If all groups sign off on the plan, an estimated $1,035,000 must be reached.
Darin Neufeld, an engineer with EBH and Associates and the Marion PRIDE committee collaborated to apply for a transportation enhancement grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation, narrowly missing out in the end.
“Because there are multiple categories, some years they weight categories more heavily than others,” Neufeld said. “For whatever factor, when they were going through the criteria, ours just didn’t float to the top.”
Holter said the city has an opportunity to apply for a matching grant in December.
“In cooperation between the city, the downtown merchants and PRIDE committee, we’ll be working on a process of re-painting the light poles, removing some of the extra sideage that’s accumulated over the years,” Holter said. “The vision will be to get a series of banners that will go throughout the year, rather than putting the flags up on holidays.”
Neufeld is confident the city will receive a grant if it keeps applying.
EBH will then design the project, seeing it through its construction.
“The grant itself does a lot of things to make the downtown look better, but the grant is just one little piece of what we’re going to need,” he said. “The rest of it is just the support of the business owners and all the citizens of the city.”
In the meantime, the PRIDE committee has begun working toward a makeover of downtown, ordering new benches and planters to add greenery year-round.
The group eventually will be asking businesses to support one or more of the planters or the park benches.
“If we’re doing something now, whether we get the grant or not, we’re trying to improve downtown’s looks,” said Sally Hannaford, secretary of the PRIDE committee. “We have worked for many, many years trying to get this.”