Kingsburg's downtown district. Photo by Frank Lopez
Written by Frank Lopez
Kingsburg is gearing up for its Holiday Kickoff Open House Saturday with plans to highlight economic development efforts in its downtown corridor.
Businesses are relocating, renovating and anticipating a brighter, bustling downtown with a variety of businesses and eateries. Draper Street is ground zero for those efforts.
Nearly four years ago, Kingsburg city officials saw the writing on the wall that anchor retail stores were struggling. With the eventual closure of Kingsburg’s Kmart last year, there was a renewed focus on keeping a vibrant downtown – known for its Swedish flair including Dala horses and the iconic tea kettle water tower.
“We have a lot of really good bones,” said Alex J. Henderson, Kingsburg city manager. “We said, ‘it’s really safe, really clean, and really walkable – how do we expand on this?’ We started to talk about things that are experience-based, and what you can get that you can’t buy online.”
Nearby single-family homes draw foot traffic, but officials wanted to expand on that with downtown-based housing.
Plans are underway for a two-story structure where the historic Stone Hotel burned down two years ago. There will be eight apartments on the top floor and commercial space on the ground floor, with the owner looking for a brewery to locate on the first floor.
Nearby, construction is almost complete on five loft apartments that will be called the Apotek Lofts.
There are also new stores slated to go into the indoor Village Mall on Draper Street.
“I really hope that all the businesses that are coming in 1) fill up the empty spaces on Draper, and 2) that they bring more people, shopping and tourists,” said Kaitlyn Castaneda, executive director for the Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce. “We want to keep the shopping local.”
For tourism, the revitalization team wanted to tout the array of eateries and restaurants downtown. There are 35 eateries in Kingsburg, 25 of which are local.
Jolene Polyack, director of economic development for Kingsburg, said the goal is to make Kingsburg a Central Valley tourist destination for food, and to stand apart from the shopping centers in towns that offer nothing but large national food chains.
“We decided to establish a destination dining location,” Polyack said. “We wanted it to be what made us special. We do tend to get a lot of people from the area that come here and dine, and when they’re done they’ll do some shopping, and so we’ve been able to gradually lift our tourism with that.”
While downtown business owners were mostly in sync to help with revitalization efforts, it did take some goading from the city council to really get the ball rolling.
The council did not want to force business owners to drive revitalization efforts, but they did want to add strategic pressure, starting with stronger code enforcement.
Leslie Young Carpenter, owner of Berman’s Flowers and Gifts, which celebrated 70 years of business in Kingsburg this year, said that the city has been a key driver of downtown’s success.
“This city council, and this city management, are amazing right now. They are totally 100 percent behind us,” Young said. “They have brought in brilliant professionals to do studies and reports to better ourselves. They have brought grant programs and been proactive.”
The economic development team offered incentive programs that would spur business owners and developers to renovate the exteriors and interiors of buildings.
For apartments, the city offers an upper-floor rehab loan program, a 10-year forgivable loan that will be matched by the city for $20,000 per unit.
For retail, the city covers 50 percent of the sales tax for three years and 50 percent of the city’s property tax, and businesses located in Kingsburg receive streamlined permitting. There is also a facade incentive program to help businesses renovate the outside of their buildings.
In 2017, the Kingsburg was featured as a finalist for the Netflix documentary series, “Small Business Revolution-Main Street,” which runs a contest for small towns across America to win $500,000 to be shared by businesses in the winning downtown.
Even though Kingsburg didn’t end up winning, it did inspire business owners to really show off their downtown and come up with ideas to generate more interest in the area.
Once filming for the show wrapped, The California Chapter of the American Planning Association offered to create a plan for the downtown corridor pro bono.
The chapter, which consists of city planners from Sacramento, Beverly Hills and other big cities, created an outline that highlighted the town’s strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and ideas – a service which could cost thousands of dollars.
With the momentum of downtown revitalization, and as more businesses go into the nearby Kingsburg Business Park, the community is hopeful for even more economic stimulation.
“Our goal has always been to make sure that Kingsburg remains a vibrant, safe, enjoyable place to be,” Henderson said. “The council has invested pretty greatly in making sure that it stays viable. Our hope is that it continues to snowball.”