Several Topeka residents develop plans to reinvent downtown area

Downtown Development Residents and downtown store owners gather to discuss plans for the future of downtown Topeka.

Members of Topeka groups interested in downtown redevelopment had a chance to get together over the spring break to move closer to a finalized plan for proposal to the Topeka City Council.

The meeting, mainly consisting of downtown business owners and some current residents of the area, met to listen to further refinements to a process that has already been under way. RDG Planning and Design, a firm based out of Omaha, Neb., had several members in attendance to share some ideas based off of what other communities have done in the past.

This process has taken on a sense of urgency as of late, because there is a May 1 deadline for the project surrounding the South Kansas Avenue streetscape plan. Among the items introduced for inclusion wasf a narrower walkway along the street. The area would cover roughly a third of the current sidewalk.

The remaining space would be dedicated to outdoor seating for people to eat or relax along the two-block stretch. To keep traffic back from the outdoor seating area, a further three feet of flowerpot would be installed along the street. This layout was illustrated outside with the help of chalk where people in attendance were able to ask questions.

According to Delores Silkworth of RDG, the items outlined were part of a larger project proposed by Capital District Project that is expected to cost $5.5 million. The Topeka City Council is currently committed to spending $2 million in the next fiscal year.

Besides the actual street improvements, another concept that seemed popular with people in attendance was hanging lights above Kansas Avenue.

“It feels like there’s a ceiling of light over you when you’re walking under it,” said Marty Shukert, principal partner of RDG. “It’s a pretty incredible feeling.”

Other members of the community were also very supportive of a plan over the next two years that would feature several changes designed to attract new businesses downtown.

“I know this will help downtown,” said Jeff Carson, owner of Gizmo Pictures, located at 112 S.E. 8th. “I think in the next 24 months, we’ll see a pretty exciting spring.”

Washburn students also were kept in mind as Angel Romero, Washburn law student also in attendance, expressed continued optimism for the process and what it will mean for the campus community.

“I just am so excited to see this going forward,” said Romero. “We just need something like this to get students excited about Topeka. We want to keep graduates here so we need to do something like this.”

The city council will hear the finalized proposal sometime in May.