Archive for Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Council split on merit of downtown streetscape plan

Last Thursday, architect Marty Shukert shared a plan to upgrade downtown streets and sidewalks on 83rd Street from Peoria to Shawnee streets with the De Soto City Council. A focus of the $1.5 million plan would be the Wea Street intersection.

Last Thursday, architect Marty Shukert shared a plan to upgrade downtown streets and sidewalks on 83rd Street from Peoria to Shawnee streets with the De Soto City Council. A focus of the $1.5 million plan would be the Wea Street intersection.

July 8, 2009

The De Soto City Council was given three different options of how to implement the $1.5 million downtown streetscape plan in a presentation on the plan by its author, Marty Shukert of RDG Planning and Design.

The improvements would remake 83rd Street from Peoria to Shawnee with the familiar features of downtown street updates, including bump-outs with vegetation planters at intersections and mid-street, earth-toned decorated concrete to add variety to sidewalks and crosswalks, benches and decorative lighting. In addition, the plan would provide sidewalk-grade doorway access to all downtown storefronts through the use of ramps and stairs.

In his presentation, Shukert explained the objectives of the plan were to:

• Improve the safety and function of downtown streets and sidewalks. The mid-street crosswalk bump-outs would only require a pedestrian cross 28 feet of traffic lanes.

• Increase activity in the district.

• Improve the enterprise climate.

• Improve accessibility.

• Delight visitors and users of the district.

That last feature was important, Shukert said, and played a key role in his recommendation the city phase-in the improvements with some of the added features his design team envisioned for the Wea Street intersection.

Streetscapes with special features were successful in reinvigorating downtown business districts, Shukert maintained, offering examples of cities in Nebraska and Iowa where private investment followed a public commitment that increased traffic.

A written report Shukert provided in advance of his presentation spelled out two options — one that would phase in the plan starting with its focal point at the intersections of 83rd and Wea streets and another that would phase in the improvements through infrastructure components, starting with sidewalks.

In his presentation, Shukert suggested a third alternative, which would be a hybrid of the other two options. Although it wasn’t identified as such, the hybrid option was the only one graphically represented in the advance report and reported in The Explorer last week.

All the options would phase in the improvements in three phases. Shukert said he attempted to structure each phase-in so that the first phase would cost about $600,000.

One option, which Shukert called the investment option, would start with the extensive upgrades his plan envisions for the Wea Street intersection. Among the details of those improvements are bump-outs at all four of the intersection’s corners, two shelters evoking free-standing railroad depots and a 12-stall parking lot east of the fire station.

The larger shelter on the northwest corner of Wea Street could be used for concerts, farmers’ markets or other activities, Shukert said. It could be made more functional by making the parking lot to the north multi-functional so that it could be used as plaza for special events, he said.

The shelter on the northeast corner of Wea would be available for outdoor dining, parade headquarters and other special events, Shukert said.

Shukert said the advantage of phasing in the improvements starting with Wea Street was that those upgrades would encourage the completion of the rest of the project by attracting more traffic downtown. Conversely, he said starting with the sidewalks might lead some to suggest the city had done enough.

The functional option would finish the sidewalks and curbs first. It would be the most expensive first phase of the three options with a price tag of more than $800,000 because the installation of sidewalks were the most expensive item in the plan, Shukert said.

The final hybrid option would start the phase-in with improvements to the east-side of Wea Street and sidewalk replacement along the south side of 83rd from the library to Shawnee.

In council discussion following the presentation, Mayor Dave Anderson and council members Mitra Templin, Mike Drennon and Rick Walker expressed support of the plan and its special features.

Anderson explained the genesis of the plan and the larger old-town revitalization plan it followed was to help ensure the district didn’t become neglected with the development of Sunflower and the added appeal to Kansas Highway 10 frontage that would bring.

Anderson and Templin said the plan built on the appeal of traditional downtowns that was now coming back in fashion and demand.

Council members Betty Cannon and Ron McDaniel voiced support for new downtown sidewalks but were skeptical of claims private investment would follow the improvements.

Drennon said the plan was necessary, although he prefaced his statement by saying this might not be the time to do the improvements.

That observation was borne out in the 2010 budget presentation City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle presented to the council later in the meeting. Not only did it not have any more for downtown improvements, it reduced city spending on capital projects for next year by more than $1 million.

Earlier in the week, Guilfoyle said the city would have to acquire grant funding to do the project next year.

De Soto city engineer Mike Brungardt said the council next had to consider if it should award contract for the plan’s final designs.

That will be discussed later with, Anderson suggested, with the underlying assumptions that led to the downtown revitalization effort.

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