City Council candidates weigh in on downtown revitalization
Editor's note: In the editions leading up to the April 1 local elections, the Eudora News will post the opinions of Eudora City Council candidates regarding different city issues. This week's story focuses on downtown development. Look for stories about the USD 491 Board of Education race and pool bond issue in upcoming editions.
Revitalizing downtown has been a part Eudora's public consciousness for the past several years, with efforts made to look into state grants to offset infrastructure costs as well as the number of businesses that have come and gone in downtown buildings. Eudora's four candidates for City Council agreed the city and its governing bodies should play a role in rebuilding the town's center rather than leaving development up to the fickle and precarious nature of the market.
Candidate Scott Hopson and incumbent Willene Blackburn said the city should be a partner with other entities, like the Eudora Chamber of Commerce, to create what Blackburn called a downtown "everybody can live with." Fellow incumbent Tom Pyle said revitalizing downtown was a two-way street between the city and developers, and he said the city should do what it could to make downtown a desirable environment for businesses to locate without using subsidies. Dan Gregg, another incumbent, said even though the City Council should have a hand in redevelopment, community members affected by changes should have a say, too.
Most of the candidates suggestions centered around aesthetic infrastructure changes that would entice businesses and shoppers alike to come downtown. Hopson said he'd like to see old-fashioned globe streetlights, like those in other small town centers along with brick sidewalks.
"It has the charm of a small town rather than a modern, 2000 look," he said.
In addition to those suggestions, Gregg said he'd like to see building facades improved and greenery added to Main Street. Everything else cosmetic, he said, would be up to the property owner.
Blackburn said aside from aesthetic improvements the city should look at improving the quality of the streets, the driving lanes being the county's responsibility and the parking lanes belonging to the city. Downtown streets could also be improved, Pyle said, by re-routing dangerous and noisy truck traffic away from Main Street.
But he also said prospective and existing business owners needed to be given more leeway to keep them downtown or to get vital businesses, like a barber shop, to come to Eudora. For instance, Pyle said the city needed to lighten its restrictions on sign ordinances and building requirements, because businesses that lease property may be told by a landlord it would be their responsibility to bring a building up to standards. He also said it might be in downtown's best interest to allow property owners to tear down and rebuild newer buildings.
"There's a difference between an old building and a good, old building," he said.
Providing more parking behind downtown buildings was another suggestion Pyle offered.
Getting the job done
The city and Chamber have looked into securing state redevelopment grants in the past, which Gregg said was a smart way to go.
"It's our tax dollars we paid to the state, we might as well try and get some of it back to improve our community," he said.
Blackburn said it would be important to first see how much would be available with budget cuts at the state level.
"It would be nice if we could offer some kind of incentive for businesses to come in," she added.
Pyle said he saw city policy playing a leading role in providing the means to revitalize downtown, including tax breaks as well as allowing buildings to enlarge or remodel to draw businesses.
Although grants would be nice, Hopson said he hoped the city could budget its own money for downtown revitalization.
"The city employees have the experience and the talent to help out with some of it," he said.