Archive for Thursday, April 20, 2006

Downtown project still at standstill

April 20, 2006

Although the Baldwin City Council took action on the downtown streetscape project at Monday's meeting, it's still nowhere close to starting and has left many people in limbo.

The council unanimously approved the issuance of $1.29 million in General Obligation Temporary Notes to finance its portion of the $1.2 million downtown project, the $1 million-plus Women's Bridge project and the purchase of the Cappelle property. Also, the council approved an agreement with the Kansas Department of Transportation, which is providing 80 percent of the downtown and Women's Bridge funding, to adjust the figures each pays resulting the city purchasing downtown property for the project.

Still, it didn't move the project along. The original time-line announced in September had the process -- including bids and contractor chosen -- to be finished in time for a March start. It's April 20 and the project is nowhere close to being started.

"With the two agreements the council passed Monday night, I'd hoped we'd be able to get an advertisement for bidders for this week," City Administrator Jeff Dingman said Tuesday. "Unfortunately, this morning my contact at KDOT says those are our final pieces, but the feds have to give their stamp of approval on everything, which will take four or five days.

"I anticipate that hopefully by the end of the week or maybe early next week we'll be able to get a legal notice advertising for bidders," said Dingman. "Seems like the weeks fly by when you need to get something done."

Dingman said Tuesday that he doesn't expect the project can be started before June 1. He's also contemplating an Oct. 6 date to shut the project down, regardless of its status, as a "window" for the annual Maple Leaf Festival, which is scheduled for Oct. 21-22.

"We probably won't have construction started until the first of June," said Dingman. "We're going to be tight no matter what with meeting the Maple Leaf Festival deadline. We may have to make a window for the Maple Leaf Festival. Maybe we shut down for those days."

The festival, which will be in its 49th year, has a lot of people worried, most notably the festival committee. The committee last week received approval from the city and county to reroute the parade (see related story).

But, the festival isn't the only concern, with a myriad of activities scheduled for downtown during the summer. Construction may impact the Planes, Trains and Automobiles celebration on Father's Day weekend June 17. That has been factored in. The Baldwin Community Arts Council is concerned about its annual Art Walks, which are normally scheduled for the downtown sidewalks every third Friday in the summer. The annual Baldwin City Stage race, a competitive biking event set for June 24 could be affected as well.

But, Dingman is most concerned about getting the project done right. It calls for replacing the sidewalks on several blocks of High and Sixth streets, adding other items such as street lights, making the downtown more accessible for the disabled and generally sprucing up the downtown. There have been delays with the project that have been out of the control of the city, he said, and patience has been needed. That will have to continue.

"I think we'll be better off this way and not rushing someone," said Dingman. "I think we'll get a better project for it."

Because the downtown project is funded mostly by a KDOT grant, there have been many "hoops" to jump through. The change in funding acted on by the council involved the city purchasing two pieces of downtown property on its own, rather than waiting for KDOT funding. That sped the process up. Because of those purchases, KDOT will be responsible for more of the project funding with the city having taken care of the purchases.

The Women's Bridge, on High Street between 10th and 11th streets, is also be refurbished with 80 percent KDOT funding. The process for it isn't as far along as the downtown project. In contrast, the High Street bridge between Fourth and Fifth streets, which is being funded by the city and county has already been started and well on its way to completion.

That illustrates the difference between how projects of such magnitude progress when there's grant money involved. But, it's worth the tradeoff to have 80 percent of the tab picked up, council member say.

"The grants are wonderful and these projects would be possible without them," said Council President Amy Cleavinger. "But, I think there's so much more to it than anyone ever anticipates."

Roughly speaking, the city is paying $300,000 for the downtown project and the Women's bridge. The other $600.000-plus authorized in temporary notes Monday goes for purchasing the Capelle property, which is currently the Baldwin Municipal Golf Course, and associated financing costs for the projects and the purchase.

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