Downtown Revitalization Plan Sees Boost From Private Money

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A downtown revitalization plan is counting on private money to give Topekans the most bang for their buck.

Topeka's city council in a work session Tuesday night heard the latest South Kansas Avenue improvement proposal. City Manager Jim Colson said the plan will cost $8.4 millions, with $1.8 million coming from private sector dollars. The city portion could be funded through general obligation funds.

Council members had deferred action on the Kansas Avenue revitalization project since July, to give business leaders time to finalize the plans.

Critics of a previous plan say it lacked oomph, a concern architect Scott Gales tried to address with a new plan spanning 6th to 10th Avenues.

Gales said he took the existing plan and conferred with local businesses and groups to fine-tune it.

Gales, who works on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and is paid with a stipend, presented a plan that focused on walkability, so called icon elements, such as as sculptures that tell Topeka's story, and a flexibility in design.

"We came up with the idea of pocket parks," he said, describing small spaces along the street enclosed by park benches and landscape. "Musicians can use that space to perform, artist to sell their wares," he said.

Councilwoman Karen Hiller represents District 1, which includes that portion of Kansas Avenue. "It was the first time I had seen the new plans," she said after the work session.

"My first reaction is that they really appear to have responded to a lot of the input from early on, as well as the concerns that people had," she said. But before supporting it, she said, "We need to see the numbers. We, the public and the council need to have a chance to study the details."

Colson said private businesses have already pledged more than $1 million and the city says an early effort to communicate the plan to local business owners has been positive.

"We as a family have looked at the plan, " Luis Fernando Munoz, of Lupita's Mexican Restaurant, said. "We agree with the development of downtown Topeka. We're looking forward to this and hopefully the city council will vote for this."

Others are worried about the impact from construction.

"Hopefully they can do it in a manner where they don't close too much of the streets off, [and] it doesn't hit the local businesses down here too hard," Clinton Applehanz, a partner of Boho Mojo and Reliant Apparel, said.

Colson said he hopes to ensure access to businesses by implementing construction in chunks.

The city council could vote on the project at next weeks' meeting.