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Topeka completes $11 million street project

November 28, 2016 GMT

TOPEKA — As Salina begins planning for a downtown streetscape project, one example they can look to is about 110 miles to the east in Topeka.

After Topeka recently spent nearly $11 million on a downtown streetscape project, every downtown location is occupied or has plans for occupancy, said Vince Frye, president and CEO of Topeka Downtown.

“Every empty building in the core of downtown has been purchased by local investors who have big plans to fill those,” he said.

The street improvements were part of a community vision process that started in 2008 and was completed this year.

“We must have had several thousand citizens whose top priority was a revitalized downtown. It has been eight years in the making,” Frye said.

Reversing decline

Like many communities, Topeka’s downtown was in decline.

“We felt that downtown represents the community’s pride and prosperity,” he said.

In 2012, the city allocated $5 million for infrastructure, curbs, street overlay, sidewalks and gas and water lines.

“That was something that was desperately needed,” Frye said.

Topeka Downtown representatives thought more was needed. A private fundraising campaign, called “Image Downtown,” had a goal to raise another $1.8 million. By 2013, $3.8 million had been raised.

Improvements included two pocket parks, two mid-block pavilions, sculptures of notable Topekans, the state of Kansas symbol and decorative corner medallions.

Improvements were made over two summers, similar to what is planned for Santa Fe Avenue in downtown Salina.

“The merchants really had a tough two years,” Frye said. “It was not easy. They survived knowing when it was all said and done it would lead to a much better downtown.”

The streets were open at all times, which officials plan in Salina, as well.

“It was very intrusive. We had to dig up Kansas Avenue. But if we didn’t do anything, we were going to continue to decline. We knew we had to move forward,” Frye said.

More work planned

Last week, Topeka Downtown announced the purchase of property on Kansas Avenue that will lead to the development of a public plaza.

“It has been a dream for the community for many, many years. Once that is completed, it will provide a gathering spot that will be programmed as much as 250 days a year. It will allow for additional economic development surrounding it,” Frye said.

That purchase was made with money collected from transient guest taxes.

The lodging association along with the private sector will help fund the operation.

The streetscape improvements also have created a demand for housing.

“We have tremendous requests for residential,” he said. “The demand exceeds the supply.”

A project of 21 new loft apartments recently was completed.

“The demand has been great. We will no doubt see more residential development,” Frye said.