Humboldt mixed to downtown improvement plan



February 15, 2011 - 12:00 AM

HUMBOLDT — City Council members were given their first glimpses Monday of an ambitious plan to improve the appearance of Humboldt’s downtown business district.
Paul Finney, representing Humboldt’s Downtown Action team, showed council members the final concepts developed by the team, working in league over the past several weeks with Landworks Studio of Olathe.
The improvements would extend around Humboldt’s city square in the first phase, then west along Bridge Street to Seventh Street in phase 2 and finally another block north of the square along Eighth Street.
The improvements would include adding ornate light fixtures, plants, benches, brick pavers and archway designs around the light poles.
The improvements are vital for a town such as Humboldt hoping to re-establish its downtown business district as a viable commercial center, Finney said.
“It’s almost like we’re pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps,” Finney said, adding that prospective residents would be more apt to locate to Humboldt if the city had a bustling downtown area.
And while the downtown improvements would not guarantee an improved economic climate, it is an important step, Finney said.
With a plan in place, volunteers with the Downtown Action Team, as well as the Humboldt PRIDE Committee will begin seeking funds necessary to pursue grants that would make such improvements possible. No city money is being requested for now.
And judging from comments by the council members, no city money may be forthcoming.
Council member Dan Julich recounted driving through several towns similar to Humboldt in the midwest with improved downtown streetscapes, but still vacant businesses. He also asked if any existing downtown merchants were consulted as organizers developed the plan. Some may not want a tree planted directly in front of their business, he said.
And council member Don Walburn noted that cities would be foolhardy to think retail merchants would be able to compete with the Walmarts of the world.
Finney was undaunted, noting that specialty shops could fill the business district.
“People won’t build in Humboldt if they didn’t grow up here,” Finney said. “And they won’t come here without a vibrant downtown business district. You can’t really stand still with something like this. If you think you’re standing still, you’re really going backwards.”
Mayor Bob Sharp concurred, to a point, noting that Humboldt has a school district “as good or better than any in southeast Kansas,” a number of popular churches and a spacious library that also should appeal to prospective residents.
“I think they’re on the right path,” Councilman Sean McReynolds added. “Beautification of the downtown area is good, and they want to come up with the funding by themselves. The effort is to be applauded, and the idea is there. We don’t need to cut it down immediately. Let’s see how it goes.”
City Administrator Larry Tucker said the Downtown Action Team’s biggest challenge now is “selling the public,” necessary to generate the private funding to pursue the grants.
No dollar figures were announced.
Finney noted that the grants being pursued would come from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, “which does not add anything to the federal deficit. This comes from gas tax money.”

IN A RELATED matter, the city agreed to pay $1,000, plus provide another $2,000 of in-kind donations for a consultant to look at some of Humboldt’s downtown buildings to determine if the city could create a State Historic District.
Having such a designation would give some of the building owners an opportunity to receive funding to make improvements to their aging structures.
Many of the downtown buildings could be considered to have historic value, Tucker said.
The consultant will be paid $12,500, $7,500 would be funded through a grant Tucker said. Of the remaining $5,000, the Downtown Action team is asking the city for $1,000 in cash and $2,000 in in-kind salaries. A local donor and other volunteers have committed to raise the balance of the local match.
Council members approved the request 7-1, Wayne Carson opposed. The cash will come from Humboldt’s Community Development Fund.

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