City OKs makeover for downtown

By Burk Krohe

It looks like downtown Manhattan will get the facelift it was promised.

City commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution creating a benefit district for improvements on Poyntz Avenue and several surrounding streets. Improvements on Poyntz Avenue, 3rd Street, 4th Street, Houston Street and Humboldt Street will include replacing curb and gutter, replacing curbside concrete on sidewalks, replacing trees, new tree well curbs, electrical improvements, painting existing light poles, mid-block crossings and streetscaping amenities. Bowman Bowman Novick, a local firm, presented plans for the project at a cost of $2.9 million.

“I think it’s going to tie in the north and south ends better into a more seamless whole,” Commissioner Jim Sherow said.

Mayor Loren Pepperd agreed with Sherow, saying the improvements were “well needed” in the district. Pepperd also said jokingly that the city had done almost everything imaginable in the area except actually finish the project.

The benefit district will split the cost 95/5 between the city and downtown businesses owners. The city will draw on $1 million in the city’s downtown fund toward its 95 percent share and bond the remaining $1,787,298. The businesses owners will be responsible for the remaining $146,700

Jason Hilgers, assistant city manager, said there are 52 business owners and the average assessment for each would be about $2,5000, noting some would be higher and some would be lower. Hilgers said the businesses have the option of paying a lump sum up front, thereby avoiding interest costs, or paying annually.

Commissioner Wynn Butler said the funding for the project was accomplished in a variety of interesting ways including drawing on the downtown funds and funding the installation of a new water water line through the city’s water fund.

“I think this has been well thought through and because of that I support this,” Butler said.

While feedback toward the project was generally positive, some had concerns.

Julie Govert-Walter, executive director of the Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging, said she is concerned about safety. The agency’s building is on the corner of 4th and Houston streets. Govert-Walter told commissioners that traffic has increased, possibly from people using Houston as a through street to avoid driving on Poyntz, and speeds are getting dangerous. She advocated putting a traffic signal at the intersection.

Govert-Walter also said there is a “big-time drainage issue.” She described water backing up and collecting in the alleys, through which many people have to walk.

“In the winter months this particular problem, with the backing up of the water, creates a very scary skating rink,” Govert-Walker said.

Sherow said the Commission appreciated the concerns.

“The speeds really have to be taken down,” Sherow said. “I agree with you on that.”

He also noted that the alleys in downtown are on the “Commission’s radar” and said the general feeling has been that the Commission will take on the alleys after the current improvements are completed.

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