Revitalization concept worth further look
Two weeks ago, consultant Marty Shukert produced a sketched concept that attempts to do nothing short of giving De Soto's downtown a recognizable identity that would serve as an attraction to the city's business core. As defined by the Omaha urban planner, downtown included a triangle roughly bounded by Ottawa Street, the Kansas River and Lexington Avenue.
The concept was more than a mere beautification project, although it has much that would make the downtown and larger triangle more attractive. It identifies shortcomings, such as the lack of commercial footage, and purposes remedies. It seeks to build interest by making use of assets like the riverfront and the new municipal pool.
The concept offers a mix of big ideas -- a public and private development of the field east of Morse's Market into a commerce zone and park separated by a pond -- and common applications, such as the use of street lamps and landscaping to carry the core two downtown blocks east to Miller Park.
The concept was drawn after a morning workshop and walking tour, but it should be remembered Shukert was in De Soto in the spring of 2004 to facilitate a community housing assessment. It appears the architect processed and retained much from that earlier visit.
Shukert said he was looking for a number of features that would act together like "pearls in a necklace" to bring cohesion and distinction to the downtown triangle he defined. The concept makes use of city owned property, such as the former water treatment plant on Shawnee Street, which could make more affordable the public investment the planner identified as a key to leveraging private commitment.
All this might be dismissed as pie-in-the-sky imagining but for Shukert's record of accomplishment. An Internet search of Shukert's name produced more than 500 hits relating to his involvement in projects in his native Omaha and cities throughout Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas.
A review of that work would also reveal that the projects weren't conceived as cookie-cutter developments that blight modern urban landscapes, but were new expressions of the towns' historical or architectural heritages. Any plan for De Soto would similarly be unified around a theme unique to its history, Shukert promised.
It will cost $12,000 to bring Shukert back next year for a more developed plan. Mayor Dave Anderson said he was hopeful the city could split that cost with the business community. It is a worthy investment.
It is now envisioned De Soto's real growth will occur to the west. That growth won't happen just to the west of what is already here but by necessity a leap to Edgerton Road and beyond. A healthy, vital downtown core anchored by existing civic institutions is essential in giving the far-flung community a sense of cohesiveness.