Kudos to Humboldt city leaders for realizing their downtown needs an updo.
In action Tuesday night, council members approved trying for a $420,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation. If awarded, the grant will fund extensive renovations to the downtown square including new sidewalks, light standards, trees, benches and trash containers.
The grant requires a 20 percent buy-in by the city, which has been agreed upon.
ALMOST FOUR years ago, Iola was on the same track. Beginning in January 2010, representatives of Landworks Studio, Kansas City, began a series of meetings with the public to devise a comprehensive plan.
The Kansas Health Foundation funded 75 percent of the study with the city coming up with the rest.
The Vision Iola project was the brainchild of Thrive Allen County in the hopes it would help give Iola a community identity and enhance its downtown, parks and trails.
Residents were allowed, in fact encouraged, to dream of what they would like to see Iola become.
Over six months and many meetings, residents arrived at a consensus for signage, sidewalks, and parks, some of which has materialized today through piecemeal funding mechanisms. New welcome signs greet visitors to the east and west entrances of town. New soccer fields in the Davis Addition are a pleasant change from vacant fields. The Southwind Rail Trail is a popular extension of the Prairie Spirit Trail. The new dog park along South Walnut is a big hit among pet owners. And the idea to designate bike lanes in town goes a long ways in warning cars to share the road, in addition to sending the message that Iola is a health-conscious community.
Some of the dreams, however, are still on paper due to a lack of cohesive support from city leaders to try for the big money to make a difference.
Like Humboldt, Iola has a great opportunity for downtown businesses because of its square. Iola’s is double the size with two full blocks on each side.
Even so, Iola’s downtown is not the destination it could be.
Designers with the KC studio suggested a more visually and aesthetically friendly look would draw more people downtown. They drew pretty pictures of sidewalks lined with planters or trees; landscaped bulb-outs near intersections to allow for safer crossing of the busy street; and comfortable benches.
The amenities would create a “sense of place,” they said, and enhance the unique architecture of the buildings’ facades.
ESTIMATED COSTS were not cheap, as Humboldt has discovered. Site work, utilities, sidewalk enhancements including ramps and gutters, light poles, landscaping, new striping for parking spaces and other amenities were in the neighborhood of $150,000 for each side of the square. So yes, total cost to redo Iola’s downtown square would be about $600,000 and require funding from deeper pockets. According to Larry Tucker, Humboldt city administrator, the Kansas Department of Transportation has $11 million in federal funds for projects awarded the next years.
The payback on the investment is:
• A more vibrant downtown that attracts prospective business owners to locate there;
• Unifying business owners to work together during the holidays, sidewalk sales and other downtown events such as Farm-City Days, the Charley Melvin, and Thursday night’s late hours;
• Inspires property owners to keep their buildings up-to-date and looking attractive;
• And, probably most important, helps keep the public interested in visiting their downtown square.
Humboldt has been on the leading edge this past decade, especially, in its efforts to combat apathy and create a community where people want to come — and stay.
It’s no shame to copy a good idea.
— Susan Lynn