Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2003

Downtown ideas revealed

March 13, 2003

Picture this: Rolling into the town's central business district, you park your car diagonally along the street next to a shade tree and flowers, which are planted in one of the islands that protrude from the parking lane. As you walk toward the storefront, your feet plod along a brick walkway lined with cement.

Getting tired, you sit down on a black, iron park bench. When you look up, you see a matching decorative iron street lamp with a basket of geraniums hanging off the other end. Popping a piece of gum in your mouth, you reach over to throw the wrapper away in a trash receptacle that matches the benches and streetlights.

Now imagine you're in Eudora. Seem unlikely? Not if the city pushes forward with a plan to improve downtown's aesthetic infrastructure in hopes of attracting and retaining business.

City Administrator Mike Yanez worked with Brian Kingsley of BG Consultants, the city's engineering firm, to come up with a preliminary picture of downtown with the idea that downtown business owners and other community members would offer their comments and help shape downtown's future.

Yanez and Kingsley unveiled a schematic at Monday night's Eudora City Council meeting that included the aforementioned amenities.

"It's obvious to anybody taking a look that our downtown is struggling," Yanez said. "They're struggling to get enough customers in their shops."

Improving the looks and atmosphere of the downtown's public areas would hopefully be one way to do that, he said. As an example, Kingsley said downtown Tonganoxie formerly had 80 percent occupancy, but after a cosmetic touch-up, done in part with a grant from the Kansas Department of Housing and Commerce, it has 100-percent occupancy, Kingsley said.

Tonganoxie also offered ideas for Eudora on other aspects of downtown renovation, including getting storefronts upgraded. Even though private property isn't part of this project, Kingsley said Tonganoxie organized a special fund. As one downtown business pays off its improvement loan from the fund, another can begin borrowing and making its own improvements.

Moreover, Council member Rex Burkhardt said the city could help out in other ways, such as waiving building permit fees and offering utility discounts to building owners who touch up their property.

In response to Mayor Ron Conner's interest in eventually expanding downtown beautification as far as Ninth or 10th streets, Kingsley said Tonganoxie was in the process of expanding its downtown improvement by scaling down the project in blocks farther out. For instance, decorated light poles will be spread farther apart as they move away from the downtown core.

However, Kinglsey emphasized that Eudora shouldn't try to look like Tonganoxie, or any other city for that matter.

"When we get done, we want people to say, 'That looks like downtown Eudora,'" he said.

Another goal would be to negatively affect downtown businesses as little as possible.

Because Eudora would only be talking about revamping one block, Kinglsey said parking and access to businesses would be easier.

Conner said grant money and low-interest loans would be tools the city could use to finance downtown improvements.

But Council member Tom Pyle reminded the Council that improving downtown without signage directing people there wouldn't do much good. Yanez said he talked with Douglas County officials about installing directional signs off the K-10 ramps at 1061 pointing drivers toward the city's center. Yanez said he also had plans to talk with Kansas Department of Transportation officials about getting signs on the highway as well.

Pyle praised the preliminary design because he said islands in the parking areas would force truck traffic to slow down as it drove down Main Street. One goal of the schematic, Yanez said, was to make downtown pedestrian-friendly. Conner also showed his approval.

"I didn't know what to expect," Conner said. "But this is bold. It brings a freshness to (downtown)."

Burkhardt said he was pleased to see a plan that would preserve Eudora's core.

"That's our link to the past," he said. "We lost a hundred-year-old lumber company and our railroad depot in one night. We need to maintain our identity."

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