Revised downtown revitalization plan warmly received
Loya Beery came away from Tuesday evening's update on downtown revitalization feeling positive about the direction the planning effort was moving.
"I liked it better than when we came down for a conversation this summer," she said. "I see some things that look doable and some that are out there."
That seemed to be the general reception to an alternative old-town revitalization consultant Marty Shukert shared first news at a joint meeting of the De Soto Parks and Recreation Commission, the De Soto Planning Commission and the De Soto Economic Development Council and then with members of the general public.
For nearly a year, the Omaha city planner has studying a section of old-town De Soto bounded by Ottawa Street on the west, the Kansas River on the north and Kill Creek to the south and east with an eye to revitalization.
The conservation Beery referred to was one of many Shukert had during a visit in July, when he met with downtown business and property owners to learn their views on how the business district and surrounding areas of old-town De Soto could be revitalized. The meetings came after Shukert proposed a plan in June that would have had the city sell Miller Park and developed to a mix of commercial and residential development.
The idea, Shukert admitted Tuesday, did not prove popular.
"That created some controversy," the consultant said. "There's nothing wrong with that if you don't do anything wrong."
The feedback provided by Beery and others who visited with him last summer helped him avoid doing anything wrong as he refined this concept, Shukert said.
"I really think we came away with a stronger plan," he said.
Shukert found his way forward by reversing himself. The new plan Shukert shared Tuesday side by side with the one presented in June kept Miller Park as a community park but moved the ball fields on what is now 40 acres of open fields across Lexington Avenue east of Morse's Market. Shukert first proposed such uses for the site after his initial planning visit in October 2005.
The ballparks and green space at that location would surround a pond and a mixed residential and commercial development.
The removal of the ballparks and active recreation uses would give Miller Park added green space, some of which Shukert said could be used for an amphitheater.
Other than that, the two plans were substantially alike and shared similar goals.
"We would like to emphasize the downtown," Shukert said. "That's really the idea here."
Both plans would add 160 housing units to in the study district, 133,000 square feet of commercial or office space and $30 million to $40 million in new investment, Shukert said.
Like its predecessor the new plan:
- Assumed the city would relocate city shops at Shawnee and 82nd streets to a more spacious location, allowing the site of the city's old water plant to be redeveloped to a mixed use of commercial and residential uses.
- Make room for the Johnson County Library District to build a full-service library adjacent to Miller Park on the northwest corner of 83rd and Ferry streets.
- Replace the mobile homes parks southwest of the park with an "Osage Village" of townhomes and apartments.
- Tie the downtown business district to Miller Park and the Community Center with promenades featuring unified vegetation and "pylons" commemorating De Soto's history.¢ Encircle the district with trails that would also link to key elements in old-town as Miller Park, the new proposed park and the Community Center.
- Realign the east-Y as a T-intersection controlled by a stoplight and designed to funnel more traffic from the east to the downtown district.
Shukert did bring more fully elaborated sketches of renovations to the downtown business district. In them, 83rd Street would have vegetation bump-out islands at the intersections from Peoria to Shawnee with one placed mid-block between Wea and Shawnee.
As he had in June, Shukert the city take advantage of the walk-out basements in the alley south of 83rd Street downtown to create another block of storefronts. The city could encourage this development by improving the alley and tying it to 83rd with a terraced water cascade on the east of Wea Street south of 83rd.
Also detailed was a possible reuse of the fire station and Memorial Building at such time as the De Soto Fire Department moves to a proposed Lexington Avenue site. Shukert suggested the 8,000 --square-foot parking lot east of the station could become a small "urban park." Similar parks in other cities have proved extremely popular and in demand for lunchtime concerts or other events, he said.
Absent from the new business district sketch was the replacement of the Dollar General store with a new commercial building. Shukert said he learned from Beery that she, her sister Gayla Hougham and mother, Maxine Coker, planned restoration of the historic building.
That, Beery said, was one of the improvements she saw in the plan. She also liked the suggestion the Scout House be located to Miller Park and that property converted to a parking lot.
Asked about a timeline, Shukert said there was an immediate one to complete the plan. He hoped to have that ready to share with the De Soto City Council in about a month, he said.
As for seeing elements of the plan realized, Shukert said that wouldn't happen all at once. He also emphasized some of the goals would be realized by market forces after the city made public investment.
"It's very hard to anticipate when certain things in a plan like this that will get other forces going," he said. "You don't go rehabilitate every house, but support things that make people say, 'I ought to rehabilitate my house."
City planning director Kim Buttrum said Shukert's maps would be up on the city Web site -- desotoks.us -- before the consultant returns in November.