Downtown continues to develop

Talking About the Future Marty Shukert, principle partner of RDG Planning and Design speaks to gathered downtown business owners and residents of the area about what he envisions for the downtown district. The downtown redevelopment project is currently coming up on the end of the first phase. A final proposal must meet a May 1 deadline for the Topeka City Council to approve it.

Cindy Rose / Washburn Review

The Kansas Avenue Streetscape Improvement Plan is working to give a facelift to downtown Topeka.

In an effort to bring the community back to the area, plans have been underway for almost three years. The intent is to resurrect the current district and bring a more vibrant appeal that will attract visitors and new enterprise.

“Historically the downtown has always been the center for activities in the community,” said Cody Bird, deputy city manager and member of housing and urban development.

But across the United States, sometime around the 1960’s, events occurred that began moving people away from city centers.

“Now we’re starting to see this desire for people to come back to downtown,” said Bird.

The plan underway is working to make that desire a realization.

Currently it’s a struggle to get new businesses to the area because of the high cost involved in making necessary improvements to the existing buildings and utilities.

 “The city would be able to set the stage for private development to come in and create those types of activities and venues where people will want to come,” said Bird.

 This will involve doing improvements to the infrastructure; like the sewage and utilities and resurfacing streets that haven’t been paved in upwards of 30 years.

The project was started approximately three years ago with a process organized by Heartland Visioning. They created The Capital District Project Team. Through a series of visioning meetings, several ideas were brainstormed. Concepts were developed in the Kansas Avenue Design Workshops.  The city brought in a team headed by RDG Planning Design in Omaha to create a conceptual plan and begin working to consolidate those ideas.

Bird said one of the most important things is that businesses are not able to utilize the sidewalk space to their advantage. Reducing the current five lanes on Kansas Avenue to three lanes would allow for sidewalk expansion. Enlarged sidewalks would create space for outdoor dining and seating. They would also bring adequate area for retail businesses to display merchandise and provide for other features and activities to improve the downtown area.

Bird said there is an importance for the community to get involved and emphasized that until lately the project has been driven by a grassroots movement in the private sector.

“They’ve fundraised money to get the process going,” said Bird. “What kept this moving have been the local businesses and the property owners. Now the city has come aboard, providing financial support of the project.”

Originally a plan was being considered to create streets in a serpentine design, but after the latest public meetings it was decided to keep them in a more conventional pattern. Recently a study was made to assess the volume of traffic to see if three lanes would support the traffic flow. The analysis found that at this point in time it will. With the prospective growth of Topeka and the intended draw back to downtown, only time will tell.