Downtown owners take issue with redevelopment

Megan Hash / Washburn Review

Many downtown business owners feel their businesses are being threatened-threatened by redevelopment plans.

The Capital District Project team was created to “revitalize” downtown Topeka and make it more appealing to visitors and Topekans. However, many business owners disagree with the proposed plans to cut Topeka Avenue down to two lanes in order to build wider sidewalks.

Two business owners and staff, specifically, have come forward to speak out against the redevelopment plans. Marion Lane Candles, located at 713 Kansas Ave., and The Merchant, located at 913 South Kansas Ave., are both locally owned businesses.

“I personally don’t like it. I’m scared for the future of our business,” said Emily Lewis, employee at Marion Lane Candles and senior anthropology major at Washburn. “This construction will probably be detrimental to a lot of businesses downtown. When the construction is going on, nobody comes downtown.”

Marion Lane Candles has been located in downtown Topeka for more than 8 years and Lewis has worked there for more than three years.

“I feel pretty strong that once the entire downtown is under construction, people will avoid downtown all together,” said Lewis. “They really need to take into consideration how the local businesses feel.”

Downtown businesses have been invited to attend redevelopment meetings but some owners still feel like their opinions are being ignored.

“I’ve been actively against the things they have been talking about for three years,” said Connie Cook, owner of Marion Lane Candles. “The thing that is so aggravating is that they asked to meet with us business owners. We told them exactly what we wanted and it was as if we said nothing and didn’t show up. They are doing the opposite of what we wanted.”

Lisa Boyd, owner of The Merchant has shared many of the same frustrations that Cook and Lewis have expressed. Boyd has estimated that when the construction is in full height, the business owners could lose from $50 to $100 a day as evident from previous construction projects.

“Downtown has become a dirty word,” said Boyd. “Like us business owners are asking for handouts. I know at least 10 downtown business owners that are against the redevelopment.”

The justification behind the decision to enlarge the sidewalks is to increase outdoor dining and seating. However, it is still being determined if cutting the street down to two lanes will be sufficient for traffic flow.

“[The developers] still do what they want,” said Boyd. “I feel like we are not being heard at all. I’m a frugal shopper and as a taxpayer I don’t understand the amount of money they are spending. I’d like to see the money going for something else. I would love to see the Jayhawk Theatre restored. I would like to see the money going to recruit businesses.”

Boyd feels that the money could fix more cosmetic issues of downtown instead of changing the whole street structure.

“They haven’t maintained what we already have,” said Boyd. “I just want to fix what’s broken. We need more trashcans and benches. Curbs are deteriorating. I know that most taxpayers don’t want crumbling curbs in front of their businesses and homes.”

Another concern they have with the campaign is the negative image it places on the downtown area.

“I also don’t like the whole slogan of ‘Rethink Topeka,” said Lewis. “It’s negative and makes people feel like there is nothing down here. They ignored most of the businesses. It’s hurts a large part of the community by doing this. There are a lot of hidden gems. People have no idea what’s downtown.”