Archive for Wednesday, December 5, 2007

City may turn to consultants on downtown

December 5, 2007

If the city is going to expand economical development and save downtown, it looks as though it's going to turn to some outside help.

Monday night, the Tonganoxie City Council along with members of the Tonganoxie Planning Commission, Tonganoxie Chamber of Commerce members and Tom Kaleko of Springstead Inc., the city's financial adviser, met to discuss the future economic growth of downtown and of the city at-large.

"Downtown is going to change," said Charlie Ussery, owner of Himpel Lumber. "It's not going to be what we thought it was, and that's hard to let go of sometimes. I'm starting to revisit what I was thinking. I'm not sure anymore that downtown is dying, but it's taking on a new birth. There should be some excitement of what it could become and what we could make it."

To help create the future of downtown and the rest of Tonganoxie, the group decided to look at three options for outside help: Kansas State University's Center for Engagement and Community Development; BWR, which already provides the city with planning services; and the Kansas Main Street Program run by the Kansas Department of Commerce.

On Monday afternoon, Cheryl Hanback, executive director of the chamber, e-mailed City Administrator Mike Yanez about an option being offered by K-State.

It would be to have Jeff Zacharakis, a KSU faculty member who specializes in community development, come in and help provide strategic planning and community vision. Hanback mentioned that an hourly rate for Zacharakis would be negotiated, but his typical rate goes from $100- $125.

Yanez said he would invite BWR to present a plan to facilitate a community vision and strategic plan along with a survey service. Yanez said BWR's proposal would cost about $20,000 for the service that would include the $11,310 needed for a scientific survey and community questionnaire.

During the meeting, Blake Waters of First State Bank and Trust and the chamber's secretary, suggested the Main Street Program.

"Everything I'm hearing Kansas Main Street Program will do and it won't cost a whole lot of money if we can just get accepted into their program," Waters said. "I really think that is the direction we should take for the money and for the expertise that it brings to the table."

Yanez said he had looked into the program before but had hesitated when he saw it required a full-time staff member to run the program.

The group also was concerned the Main Street Program would focus solely on developing Fourth Street, not on future development on U.S. Highway 24-40.

"There are three synergies and one of them is downtown," said Bill New, chairman of First State Bank and Trust. "Economically speaking with development, it is impossible to separate downtown with what happening on the highways. They complement each other.

"The third aspect is what is happening to Tonganoxie now with the advent of County Road 1. Whether you were for or against it, the opportunity for the community of Tonganoxie is unprecedented and there is a tremendous economic opportunity," New said.

Also discussed at the meeting was the need for more parking downtown. There were concerns that downtown would not attract any new businesses because there was not a place for downtown employees, let alone patrons, to park.

Diane Bretthauer, who chairs the Planning Commission, said parking and the acquisition of homes around downtown to create more parking have been in the 20-year comprehensive plan, but those parts of the plan has not been addressed. Neither has the issue of disabled parking, she said.

"There is not one disabled parking spot downtown. We don't have any designated handicap parking in our whole downtown. For one, that's a disgrace," Bretthauer said.

Council member Steve Gumm suggested contacting BG Consultants, the city's engineering firm, to do an analysis to get an idea of the kind of parking requirements downtown will need so the City council will have a better understanding of what kind of land purchases would be needed to create a better parking situation.

For now, city staff and group members will contact the consultants and schedule a time they can present their plan to the city. The group will then weigh the pros and cons of each. It will be left to the City Council to make the final decision.

"I think that if we hire a consultant to put together a vision and strategic plan, it's going to involve some hard decisions," Yanez said. "It's going to involve some expenditure of public funds. It's going to involve some things like community marketing. It's going involve some nuisance abatements, as well as providing some assistants to help the private sector with the appearances of their storefronts and also the evaluation and consideration of some government incentives to businesses. It's not going to be one silver bullet that solves this."

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