Archive for Thursday, September 2, 2004

Plan finalized for downtown revitalization

September 2, 2004

The plans for revitalizing Baldwin's downtown aren't quite what they were when they were presented to the public this past spring.

After a summer of meeting and exchanging ideas, consulting an engineer and listening to community members, the Baldwin economic development committee has finalized a plan to revitalize downtown and make it more functional.

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"I'm hoping people are going to look at this and say, 'Wow, this is going to look really cool,'" said Tony Brown, a city council member and economic development committee chairperson.

A preliminary revitalization plan was presented at a public forum in April. There were a number of concerns and suggestions voiced by community members at the forum about different aspects of the plan.

Brown said the committee took the suggestions and, with the help of the Kansas engineering firm EBH and Associates, developed a new downtown plan.

"We did a lot of brainstorming and dreaming," he said. "We wanted it to be more functional, but we also want it to have some connection to our historical and cultural heritage."

The plans call for the development of Eighth Street between Grove and Indiana streets and High Street between Sixth and Ninth streets.

He said the corners will be laid with brick. A planter will be located at each corner, he said, the idea being to plant trees.

"The trees would be just on the corners," he said. "One thing we heard very clearly from the public meetings is that people don't want trees blocking their businesses. So we tried to move them to a location where there won't be a sight problem for the businesses."

Raised planters would be placed along the sidewalks and feature bushes or flowers.

"We want to soften up all of the concrete downtown," he said.

Crosswalks would be improved and clearly defined, Brown said, by using brick and scored concrete.

Also included in the revitalization plans is the enhancement of two downtown lots, the corner at Eighth and High streets and the lot west of the American Legion building on High Street.

Brown said the goal is to make the corner where the Chamber of Commerce is located -- what the committee considers the center of town -- more attractive and appealing.

He said in addition to adding brick and greenery, the committee would also like to see benches placed at the corner as well as plaques commemorating the history of the Baldwin area.

The committee, he said, would also like to see the vacant lot next to the American Legion building transformed into a veterans' memorial park with an adjacent parking lot.

Brown said the plans would also meet the requirements for the American Disability Act, which is not currently the case for much of downtown.

"We have issues with ADA accessibility," he said. "We need to improve that. This would bring us up to code with the American Disabilities Act."

Among one of the biggest concerns from the spring public forum, Brown said, was the cost of the project and how it would be financed.

He said the committee anticipates the project will cost approximately $915,000.

He said the goal is to present the revitalization plans to the Federal Highway Administration for a transportation enhancement grant, which would finance 80 percent of the project.

The city would be responsible for the remaining 20 percent of the project, plus the project's survey and design costs -- an estimated $269,000. The decision on how to finance the city's portion has yet to be made.

Brown said he realizes the quarter of a million dollars is still a lot, but improvements to downtown would have to be made eventually.

"This is a good way to get a lot of improvements done and limit the cost," he said. "We're getting a lot of bang for our buck."

The grant isn't due until November, and Brown said if the city is awarded the grant, it won't be notified until mid 2005. That means the revitalization project probably wouldn't get underway until early 2006, he said.

But before it can go any further, he said, the revitalization plan must get city council approval. He said the council will be discussing the plan at its Sept. 20 meeting.

The economic development committee will meet once more, prior to the council meeting, on Sept. 13. Brown said anyone who would like more information about the revitalization is invited to attend the Sept. 13 meeting at 4 p.m. at the public works building.

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