Archive for Thursday, June 22, 2006

Radical’ renewal plan starts discussion

June 22, 2006

It is interesting discussion of the revitalization of De Soto's old-town core started days before the U.S. Census Bureau released new population estimates for Kansas.

Looking over those figures, one can find any number of cities with declining population, such as Hiawatha, Marysville, Hillsboro or Ulysses. County seats all, they have lost an estimated 100-200 residents since the 2000 Census.

Yet every one of these cities, now smaller than De Soto, have much larger downtowns. That is a reflection of their past, in which some were near double their current size. In that sense De Soto is an oddity -- a still growing city that has long outgrown its downtown core.

That same district has a hodge-podge of housing stock that runs from well-maintained, attractive homes and apartments to those meant to meet past exigencies during days of little or no regulation now reaching the end of their usefulness.

The question being put to the community is what to do about that. One course of action could be to do nothing and let the district fend on its own. Market forces -- which are creating a demand for downtown storefronts -- could remake the district, spurring the building of new commercial properties and redevelopment of some existing its deteriorating housing stock.

Such optimism must be balanced by the fact the area is already competing against other areas in the city and will soon see more as De Soto grows to the south and west. In addition, Sunflower Redevelopment LLC says it will hire one of the nation's top urban planners to design what essentially be a new city that will provide further competition.

A hands-off approach would more likely result in more absentee landowners, neglected properties and the eventual departure of such draws as the U.S. Postal Service and Johnson County Library District when they make the inevitable decision to expand.

The plan consultant Marty Shukert presented last Thursday wasn't meant to be the final solution. But its elements certainly should get people's attention, and it's safe to assume some elements -- such as the redevelopment of Miller Park -- will meet with resistance.

Shukert said last week there should always be options, signaling an awareness that any plan would have to have community acceptance. At the same time, it should accepted that simple opposition is not enough and all should share in the goal of providing solutions to the problems the consultant's plan addressed.

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