City meetings expected to draw interest
There will be a pair of meetings that should hold plenty of interest for Baldwin City residents in the next week.
First is tonight's public meeting concerning the progress on the Downtown Enhancement Project which totals roughly $2.67 million. The meeting will be at 7 tonight at the American Legion Hall, 803 High Street.
The second meeting of note is Monday's regular Baldwin City Council meeting. It will be at the new city power plant on Orange Street. There will be an open house at the plant beginning at 6 p.m. and that will last through 9 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., the council will conduct its regular meeting.
Tonight's meeting will focus on what's to come in the future, while Monday's open house and meeting are to show off how similar visions have made a difference in Baldwin.
"This is going to be the first chance to see what's going to happen," said City Administrator Jeff Dingman regarding the downtown projects. "We'll have a Power Point Presentation on what will be done.
"We're having the open house and meeting at the power plant Monday just because we haven't shown it off yet," said Dingman. "It's a pretty big investment made by the community. We haven't really had a chance to show it off."
The city's investment totals $5.5 million in the plant which enables Baldwin to generate most of the electricity it needs. Because of that capacity, the city has been able to sell power to Gardner this summer as additional revenue.
City officials want to make sure residents are aware of the change in venue for the meeting not only to see the power plant, but also because of agenda items of note. The council is expected to vote on an ordinance allowing the sale of alcohol on Sundays. The matter was tabled at the last council meeting because of interest from both sides of the issue that needed to be addressed. The issue could cause even more electricity in the air at the power plant Monday.
"Yeah, maybe so," said Dingman. "We don't want anyone to miss the meeting because it's not in its usual place. It will be interesting to see how that (alcohol ordinance) goes either way."
Proponents of the ordinance want the option of being open and selling alcohol on Sundays. Currently, alcohol can be purchased on Sundays in nearby Edgerton and Lawrence. Opponents' objections vary, including business decisions and being against alcohol in general, but specifically on Sunday sales. At least one council member believes it should be up to the people.
"From an economic perspective, this is a question of free enterprise," said Councilman Tony Brown. "I would suggest we let the market guide the decisions of local businesses. From an ethical perspective, this is a question of freedom of choice.
"I would suggest we allow individual citizens the right to make their own decisions about the morality of purchasing alcohol on Sundays," said Brown.
Council President Amy Cleavinger hopes Monday's discussion will involve logic and not emotions.
"The council certainly welcomes any feedback from the community on this issue," said Cleavinger. "I also believe, however, that we need to be realistic about the fact that if people want to consume alcohol on a Sunday, they're going to consume alcohol on Sunday, whether they buy it in Baldwin or not.
"Let's not be naÃive in our decision making and think that folks aren't going to drink in Baldwin on Sundays if this doesn't pass," she said. "If we can get beyond that, I know that I'm willing to listen to both sides of this issue. If you have legitimate, logical concerns, Monday is your opportunity to share them with the council."
As for tonight's meeting on the downtown project, it will give residents the first glimpse of what's going to happen with projects to repair bridges and dress up downtown Baldwin. The city has received grant money totaling roughly $2 million toward the projects. The design team for the project will be at the meeting and will be available for questions.
Timelines for each of the projects will be discussed. Dingman said the first project will be repair of the Fifth Street bridge. The historic "Women's Bridge" on High Street between 10th and 11th streets is also slated for repair. Downtown improvements include sidewalks, accessibility and overall updating.
Brown believes the projects are valuable and residents should be informed.
"I think Baldwin City residents should be interested in what is going on downtown and with the Women's Bridge," he said. "The granting agencies rated both of these grants very highly -- the Women's Bridge project was ranked No. 1 in its category and the downtown project was in the top 10.
"The fact is that people outside of Baldwin recognize the rich heritage of this area enough to award us substantial amounts of money to improve the downtown district and preserve an historic landmark," said Brown. "Call me crazy, but I think that recognition merits community attention and dedication to successfully completing those projects."
The councilman and Baker University professor also believes the projects are for all of the community, not just downtown businesses.
"I have heard some citizens say that these projects only benefit the downtown merchants and persons who live on High Street," said Brown. "I think that perspective is a very short-sighted view of the impact of these improvements. I would suggest, for instance, that the downtown project affects the perception of Baldwin City of persons who visit for high school and college athletic events, for events sponsored by the chamber of commerce, or for other city-wide activities.
"The proximity of the downtown district will also aid in Baker University recruitment which, like it or not, helps to fuel the local economy to a significant degree," he said. "My bottom line is an enhanced downtown district and historical preservation will help the entire Baldwin City economy, even if you own a business way up north on the highway."