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Lt. Gov. David Toland toured the location of the state’s first upper-story Rural Housing Incentive District Thursday morning, right here in Emporia.

The project, located in the 700 block of Commercial Street, was approved by the Emporia City Commission last month. Local realtors and developers Jamie Sauder and Kristi Mohn are bringing 10 loft apartments to the building. They are also rehabilitating the three first-floor storefronts and possibly adding a fourth storefront that would have access through the breezeway. There will be a climate-controlled storage space in the basement.

According to the Kansas Department of Commerce website, RHID funds are generated from the increase in property taxes that come as a result of improvements made to a property by the developer and can last for 25 years. Until recently, upper-story housing developments did not qualify under the RHID program. In July, Kansas legislature expanded the program to include central business districts.

Toland, who also serves as the Kansas commerce secretary, reviews applications for these new districts and confirms that they were located in downtown areas and include upper-story housing. The project must also be in a rural area. Emporia qualifies under the program because it has fewer than 40,000 people in a county with fewer than 80,000 residents.

He said he wasn’t surprised to see Emporia spearheading these types of developments.

“Emporia has been doing upper-floor housing for a number of years and what I think the RHID tool is going to do is supercharge those efforts,” Toland said. “We’ve got an opportunity here to add a different type of housing product to this region by having upper-floor housing. That’s really important right now because of the workforce shortage that we have in the state.”

Emporia has had “a ton of success” in recruiting jobs in the industrial sector. Upper-story lofts could help attract more young professionals who are working in different fields, as well as bringing in “empty-nesters” who are looking to relocate.

“You’ve got to have the right type of housing product for them,” Toland said. “That’s about single-family homes, that’s about traditional apartments and it’s about upper-story lofts, like we have here.”

Sauder said it’s exciting to get recognition from the state for the project.

“We’re honored David Toland made time to come look at our project,” Sauder said. “In his role as the commerce secretary, he’s been instrumental in advocating for upper-story usage of the RHID. He’s championed our efforts from the very beginning, and we can honestly say that he’s paid really close attention to our project throughout the steps, even from afar.”

Sauder said there’s plenty of demand for loft-style housing in the downtown area. The building was once the home of the Baldwin Motor Company, which occupied 714-718 Commercial St., and the units will have an industrial feel to them, celebrating the concrete structure in which they are housed.

“This place is built like a tank,” Mohn said.

Sauder agreed, adding that the units will be “built to last.”

“A lot of times when multi-family projects are built, they are built with economy in mind,” he said. “We wanted to have units that people live in for two, three, four, five years — extended amounts of time. We like putting in nicer finishes and that kind of thing that would lend to that desire for us.”

Toland is impressed with the ambition of the project and the “shared vision” of the development partners.

“Here’s a building with great bones, it’s built like a tank and it’s perfect for this type of upper-story conversion,” he said. “I think the apartments are going to move like hot cakes when they’re done.”

Sauder agreed.

“Adding 10 units to our market is very important with less than 40 homes for sale and very minimal amount of rental units available,” he said. “It’s hard for someone who’s considering a move to Emporia to even find temporary housing, so what we’re hoping is this will open up the doors in our economic development efforts.”

This article originally ran on emporiagazette.com.

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