Archive for Thursday, April 22, 2004

Opinions vary over revitalization proposal

Owners, community members discuss downtown improvements at informational meeting

April 22, 2004

The informational community meeting was supposed to determine whether there was support for a downtown revitalization plan, which it seemed to accomplish.

Of the 35 to 40 downtown business and property owners and community members in attendance at Tuesday's meeting, it was apparent there was some support -- as well as opposition -- for the idea.

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But what was made even more apparent was the number of varying opinions about the project, everything ranging from the cost to the use of bricks, trees and planters to the sidewalks.

But the opinions, suggestions and ideas are what Mayor Ken Hayes said the city wanted to hear.

"There is no set plan for the downtown," he said. "The idea is just to beautify downtown and make it more attractive."

Hayes told the crowd the revitalization idea evolved over time as people began making suggestions on how to revitalize downtown. In response to the ideas, he said, the city designed a preliminary plan to give people a visual concept of what could be done to downtown.

The original plan designed by the city, which Hayes said is not a set plan, but merely an idea, included burying utilities underground, replacing the sidewalks, adding trees and flower planters and installing 1930s era lamp posts.

One of the biggest concerns at Tuesday's meeting was the cost of the project and how it was going to be financed.

Hayes said the city had the opportunity to apply for a transportation enhancement grant through the Kansas Department of Transportation, which would finance 80 percent of the project, which wouldn't begin until 2006.

The remaining 20 percent -- a total of $250,000 -- would be paid for by Baldwin through a special assessment district with the 31 downtown property owners responsible for two-thirds of the cost over 10 years and the city paying for the remaining third.

City Administrator Jeff Dingman said with the grant, property owners would be charged about $70 per linear foot over the 10 years. Without the grant, the cost would increase to about $240 per linear foot.

Some people said they were in favor of the renovations, but wanted some of the financial responsibility to fall on the rest of the community as well, since all of Baldwin would eventually benefit from the improvements.

There was even the suggestion of putting the idea of downtown revitalization on the ballot to let the community members decide if they wanted it done.

Dave Lorenzen, who owns Dave's Auto Parts, said he was against the revitalization because of the cost involved.

"Where is this going to benefit me?" he said. "You tell me where it's going to benefit me, because it won't.

"And what about these people that don't have a demand business? If they're renting, they're rent is going to go up," he said. "You're trying to nail the downtown with this."

Lorenzen said the cost of the project would cause downtown to lose more businesses that would relocate along U.S. Highway 56 or close because they couldn't keep up with the expenses.

Jim Niehoff said that would happen anyway if improvements were not made.

"If we don't do something with the downtown, everybody is going to go out on the highway," he said.

Martha Wright, who owns Whitney's Creative Hair Designs, said she had a hard enough time keeping up with all of the expenses now. She said if the revitalization project happened, she would have to raise her prices and risk losing business, move to the highway or close her business.

Ted Brecheisen, a city council member who owns property downtown, said he's not completely in favor of the proposed project, but knows something will have to be done.

"I know personally I'm going to have to do something in front of my building," he said. "I know it's going to cost money. That's part of life. A sidewalk isn't my most glorious way of spending a dollar, but I know it's got to be done.

"I know there's a lot of pros and a lot of cons for this," Brecheisen said. "I don't feel people will swarm downtown (after the renovations), but at least it'll keep it where it is."

There were other concerns addressed at Tuesday's meeting, including some of the ideas proposed in the original plan like the use of bricks in part of the sidewalks and the old-fashioned looking lamp posts.

Wright said she also had reservations about planting trees in front of the businesses.

"There will be more bird droppings, more leaves and the trees will be hiding the storefronts," she said. "I want my storefront seen."

Others, like Lorenzen, questioned why other needs of the city weren't being addressed before the downtown.

"We've got more pressing issues in Baldwin, like water, sewer and lights," he said.

Frank Foye wanted to know why Baldwin wasn't talking about putting sidewalks in to the swimming pool, or from the highway to Liston Stadium.

Hayes said there were several areas that needed improvements or upgrades in Baldwin.

"But we've got to start somewhere," he said.

Hayes said a group of property and business owners would be formed to begin discussing the revitalization and develop ideas.

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