Guest Commentary

Stacy Ward-Lattin: Continue to invest in Douglas Design District

Stacy Ward-Lattin, co-owner of Hopping Gnome Brewing Company, serves customers in 2016.
Stacy Ward-Lattin, co-owner of Hopping Gnome Brewing Company, serves customers in 2016. The Wichita Eagle

The Douglas Design District has been an all volunteer, voluntary-membership-based, non-profit organization for over 12 years now. In our revitalization efforts, the DDD has proven value to the Wichita community by attracting business, decreasing blight, increasing property values, advocating for expansion of public transit, attracting and retaining young talent, and contributing to the overall economic development and health of the community. We have helped transform the east corridor of our urban core from an empty and scarce shell to a vibrant and thriving neighborhood.

Over the past eight months, a Business Improvement District (BID) planning committee has researched and reviewed a number of different successful BIDs in Kansas, as well as throughout the Midwest. Most of these BIDs have been in place between 10-20 years, and have continued to see expansion, value, and economic growth. Many of them also started as non-profit neighborhood improvement associations and implemented BID funding as a more sustainable and efficient way to fund the activities and improvements that were clearly creating value in their community.

Every single one of them also has leveraged its value and BID investment to create a private/public partnership with local government that is focused on the community’s economic development and support to small business. Considering the success of Downtown Wichita’s Self-Sustaining Municipal Improvement District (SSMID) as well, the BID planning committee feels the Douglas Design District is well-positioned to build on our current organizational infrastructure and provide continued value to our businesses and community.

We understand that this is a fairly new concept in Wichita, and the talk of a mandatory assessment automatically causes some fear and consternation. Business Improvement District services include management and marketing, events and programming, and beautification and revitalization efforts that the District already provides and can continue to expand on. Businesses can share the burden of these costs collectively, and for a fraction of the cost if they were to pay for them alone. And despite some vocal fears and objections, there is a significantly large number of business voices who are incredibly supportive and excited about the potential for our district.

This is a pivotal time for Wichita and involves tough conversations, as well as collaborative efforts, to really propel us all forward. We encourage our community to engage in these conversations with us as we set new precedent on what it looks like to invest in ourselves. We feel very confident that the Douglas Design District has already proven our value and capability, and we are asking for the business community to continue to invest in this form of economic development and urban growth.

Stacy Ward-Lattin, co-owner of Hopping Gnome Brewing Company, is president of the Douglas Design District Board.