For Atchison to grow, we need our downtown to thrive.

It has to be a hub of activity, bringing people in from all over the city and the surrounding community. In the past, our economic development strategy has put all our eggs in one basket trying to land a large company.

If you can get one, great, but it’s either feast or famine. Recently, we have shifted that focus to instead build our downtown through incremental growth. We are doing this with four main goals.

Advance and support the local culture of entrepreneurship

Focus our development efforts downtown

Provide incentives and resources to generate housing investment and redevelopment

Pursue opportunistic employer and employment growth

Today I would like to share with you how the 700 block of Commercial Street has flourished with this focus. It is an ongoing testament to how small and incremental success stories can collectively have a big impact on a community.

Entrepreneurship

Several years ago, Atchison was selected to become an Entrepreneurship Community (E-Community), which is a partnership with the statewide entrepreneurship support organization NetWork Kansas.

The program provides gap financing for small business start-ups, expansions, and acquisitions. In just two and a half years, we’ve closed 19 gap financing loans for small businesses in the Atchison community totaling more than $850,000.

A total of 14 of those deals, representing more than $600,000 of those funds, are within downtown Atchison. Four of those deals were for businesses located within the 700 block of Commercial. The City’s Façade Loan Program and Development Microgrant Programs have also been well utilized in the 700 block of Commercial.

Focus downtown

In the last 10 years, the 700 block has seen 14 construction permits and well over $1 million worth of investment. In just the last three years, there have been six new businesses, and that doesn’t count three others that have relocated from elsewhere in the Atchison community. All that success was despite a major downtown construction project that closed the 700 block to traffic for nearly five weeks in the spring of 2018.

Housing investment

About 10 years ago, there was one housing unit addressed in the 700 block of Commercial. Today, there are seven, with another two under construction. Six of those new units began construction just within the last 18 months.

Elsewhere in downtown, the lofts at Second and Main (20 units), the Switchboard lofts (3 units), and the recently announced project at the old YMCA (17 units) have found success providing higher-end rental housing.

In the last 10 years, the City of Atchison has issued building permits for 44 single family homes. When the old YMCA project is completed in 2020, there will have been over 50 apartments built in downtown during that same time frame.

Opportunistic employment growth In 2017 Bottorff Construction purchased and renovated a property in the 700 block that now houses Harvest Video, as well as two apartments upstairs. They opened their doors with two employees, and today they have seven. Seven jobs for young, creative-class professionals right in downtown Atchison.

In early 2019, Spring Venture Group (SVG), one of the fastest growing companies in Kansas City, opened a location in downtown Atchison. SVG opened their Atchison office with seven employees and hopes to hire dozens more people in the next few years. These are dozens of professional jobs, right here in downtown Atchison.

The 700 block is home to 20 properties and no less than 23 businesses: Walls of Books, the Artist Box, Jock’s Nitch (opening July 2019), Atchison Eye Center, the Travel Center, Rudolph’s, Harvest Video, Always Blooming, SunRice Chiropractic & Healing Arts Massage, Red Light Gallery, Downtown Storage, Spring Venture Group, Willie’s Restaurant, Elena’s Lavanderia, Dr. Steve Sitek (podiatrist), H&R Block & Commerce Realty, Daylight Donuts, Poor Richard’s, Dr. Stephen Wheatley (chiropractor), Thrivent Financial, and Morrill & Janes Bank.

Thank you to each of those businesses for your part in making the 700 block a success story in our community. The 700 block has seen an unbelievable run of success. Let’s copy the processes that led to this success and help it to spread.

Let’s get to work building more blocks like 700 Commercial.

Shawn Rizza has served on the City Commission since January 2018. His colleagues elected him as Mayor of Atchison earlier this year.

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