Archive for Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Revitalization costs shared

November 22, 2006

Having shared his final proposal for the revitalization of old town with the De Soto City Council, consultant Marty Shukert started discussion on how to make his conceptual overall plan a reality.

Its realization wouldn't be cheap. Shukert estimated it would take a public investment of $4 to $5 million. But that investment -- which the consultant suggested could come from grants, bonding and tax increment financing -- would leverage $40 to $50 million in public investment.

Shukert of RDG Planning and Design has worked for more than a year on a design of the downtown area from Ottawa Street east to the confluence of Kill Creek and Kansas River. The city of De Soto and the De Soto Economic Development Council contracted for the work.

Miller Park district The ballparks in Miller Park will be moved across Lexington Avenue to a 40-acre field. The added space at Miller Park could be used for an amphitheater. An oval-shaped open space outlined with trees would be preserved and oriented to a similar oval in the park expansion to the southeast across Lexington.The ballparks at the new park would share the 40 acres with a large pond and mixed retail, office and townhome development. Other commercial space would be set aside on the northeast and southeast corners of a realigned intersection at Lexington Avenue and 83rd Street.Downtown district 83rd Street intersections at Peoria, Wea and Shawnee streets would be given landscaped bump-out nodes designed to slow traffic and make the street friendlier to pedestrians. A mid-block node would be placed in the 33000 block of 83rd.New sidewalks would be added where needed and thematic lighting would be added throughout. The Boy Scout House would be relocated to Miller Park to provide additional parking.New commercial development would be encouraged at the southwest corner of 83rd and Wea streets and between the bank and current Dollar General Store. When the current fire station is relocated, it and the Memorial building would be sold and reused for commercial property. The parking lot in the northwest corner of Wea and 83rd streets would become a pocket park.The alley south of the 33000 block of 83rd Street would be provided parking, lighting and landscaping to encourage retail development in the walkout basements to the north. To lead people to the alley, a cascading fountain is envisioned west of the former Performance Glass building.The two-block downtown would be linked to Miller Park and the Community Center with processional walkways featuring the same thematic lighting as downtown and colonnades commemorating the city's history.Osage Village Mobile homes on Osage replaced with townhomes. The square block west of the southwest corner of Miller Park would be reserved for an expanded Johnson County Library.Kaw View Village The current city shop area that is also home to the city's abandoned water plant would be redeveloped to an urban village of residential and limited retail. A lookout point would be provided over the Kansas River at the northern dead end of Wea Street to the west.Transportation Sidewalks and trailways would encourage pedestrian traffic among the key elements of the district. Trails would encircle the old-town district, linking to longer trails in the area.

The final design Shukert shared with the city council last Thursday differed only in minor detail for one he presented last month to a joint meeting of the EDC, De Soto Parks and Recreation Commission and De Soto Planning Commission.

The goal of the design was to preserve the present feel of downtown while providing it and the surrounding blocks that constitute the city's historic center with the "energy" to serve its future as De Soto doubles in size in the next 10 years, Shukert said. The plan would do this by cosmetic enhancements and streetscape upgrades to the two-block main street core of 83rd Street from Peoria to Shawnee, adding new retail, office and apartments at what is now the city shops, a new mixed-use center east of Morse's Market and taking advantage of the basement walkouts behind storefronts in the block of 83rd Street for additional storefronts.

The plan would add about 450 people to the study area (currently the home of about 918 people, or 18 percent of the city's population), 160,000-square-feet in commercial or office space and about $50 million in private development.

But for all the changes, Shukert said the plan would preserve the scale and environment of the downtown core so it could take advantage of the appeal for traditional downtowns.

"Older parts of the city is where people want to be," he said. "That's why new development tries to simulate what De Soto has authentically.

"Invest in that. If not, that energy goes somewhere else."

Shukert said it would probably take about 10 years to realize the plan. As that process occurred, deviations and changes to the plan were inevitable, he said.

While not providing a clear outline of how the concept should be phased in, Shukert did suggest priorities should serve the overall goal.

"You start to create a situation where the bigger projects start to make more sense," he said. "I think what we don't want to have happen is to have two dead blocks on main street. That would be a hard thing to overcome."

With that in mind, improvements to the two blocks of downtown should be the first priority, Shukert said.

"It's where people come now," he said.

It would cost about $700,000 to complete the street and visual enhancements of the two-block downtown and another $277,000 to improve the alley behind storefronts in 83rd Street's block.

Another early priority should be the redevelopment of the mobile homes parks on Osage Street southwest of Miller Park into an "Osage Village" of townhomes and apartments, Shukert said.

The bigger project, most of which require the partnership of developers, would follow on the momentum created by the earlier projects and the community's commitment to the area, Shukert said.

Noting that Shukert had sketched a phase-in of the plan, Mayor Dave Anderson asked the about 30 residents in attendance where they would place the downtown improvements in the five-year capital improvement plan City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle was preparing. The most arms went up for "near the front."

Shukert pointed to the south and the coming development at Sunflower as a precaution of doing nothing. Commercial development there, either of the new urbanism variety or big-box development, would drain the vitality from De Soto's traditional core unless something was done to give people a reason to go there.

The plan developed with the participation of the community in the last year provided commercial, public and recreational means to do just that while adding to its residential population, Shukert said.

"Downtown De Soto can again be central to the history of this community," he said. "It can be the foundation of a new De Soto."

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