Archive for Thursday, July 16, 2009

Downtown streetscape supporters have work to do

July 16, 2009

The streetscape plan unveiled earlier this month for 83rd Street’s two-block downtown had few surprises for those who have been following its development through the first half of the year. For that matter, features of the design can be seen in Lawrence, Baldwin, Bonner Springs, Eudora and many other cities that have invested in downtown upgrades in the past 10 to 20 years. Those features include decorative street lighting, benches, curb bump-outs and vegetative planters and the use of multi-colored brick or concrete to give contrast to sidewalks and pedestrian crossing.

The plan differs from the common-place design somewhat with the ramps and stairways it uses to provide at-grade access to all downtown storefront doorways, but that feature can be found in Baldwin. The more profound departure is the plan’s makeover of the Wea Street intersection. It would feature two small shelters with an estimated cost of $48,000 on the northwest and northeast corners of that intersection. There would also be a small plaza on the northwest corner. It would connect to a rebuilt 12-stall parking lot, which the plan’s architect, Marty Shukert, said could also be for events.

If the physical plan didn’t offer many surprises, the project’s price tag did. Although no money was ever set aside or authorized, the city’s capital improvement plan pegged the cost of the downtown streetscape improvements at $700,000. The architect’s estimate was twice that. To be fair, nearly $900,000 of that total would be for sidewalks nearly all agree are needed.

The architect said it was the experience in other communities that special features like those shown at the Wea Street intersection build traffic and drive private investment to downtown districts.

There was support on the De Soto City Council for that view. If those supporters hope to see the presented plan move ahead, it is their charge to make that case. No one should be asked in advance to prove that the improvements would encourage greater numbers of people to downtown or to remove all uncertainty, but supporters of the investment need to provide testimonials and examples of how other downtown projects have helped turnaround fading districts.

That, and grants made projects possible in Baldwin and Eudora, are needed to build public support.

. Those features include decorative street lighting, benches, curb bump-outs and vegetative planters and the use of multi-colored brick or concrete to give contrast to sidewalks and pedestrian crossing.

The plan differs from the common-place design somewhat with the ramps and stairways it uses to provide at-grade access to all downtown storefront doorways, but that feature can be found in Baldwin. The more profound departure is the plan’s makeover of the Wea Street intersection. It would feature two small shelters with an estimated cost of $48,000 on the northwest and northeast corners of that intersection. There would also be a small plaza on the northwest corner. It would connect to a rebuilt 12-stall parking lot, which the plan’s architect, Marty Shukert, said could also be for events.

If the physical plan didn’t offer many surprises, the project’s price tag did. Although no money was ever set aside or authorized, the city’s capital improvement plan pegged the cost of the downtown streetscape improvements at $700,000. The architect’s estimate was twice that. To be fair, nearly $900,000 of that total would be for sidewalks nearly all agree are needed.

The architect said it was the experience in other communities that special features like those shown at the Wea Street intersection build traffic and drive private investment to downtown districts.

There was support on the De Soto City Council for that view. If those supporters hope to see the presented plan move ahead, it is their charge to make that case. No one should be asked in advance to prove that the improvements would encourage greater numbers of people to downtown or to remove all uncertainty, but supporters of the investment need to provide testimonials and examples of how other downtown projects have helped turnaround fading districts.

That, and grants made projects possible in Baldwin and Eudora, are needed to build public support.

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