Where art thou, downtown?
Debate concerning city’s hub continues
Just two months ago, in February, the Basehor City Council reached a consensus that areas near 155th Street would be the ideal location for a downtown district.
They reaffirmed that preference during a work session Monday night, but only after discussing more than one option. City Council members and city staff discussed the merits of two areas for a future downtown, 158th and 155th streets, during the meeting.
The second concept of 158th Street was presented despite the City Council's February decision to move forward with plans for a downtown district along areas on 155th Street, near what's commonly referred to as downtown Basehor.
Basehor city administrator David Fuqua said the 158th Street concept was presented as a backup plan.
"Some city staff feel it would just be better out there because of the natural location and high volume of traffic," Fuqua said.
"There's validity in that," he added. "It's common sense. The more people, the more chance of selling something."
A case could be made for either area to become downtown Basehor. City planners listed pros and cons for each location.
Among the benefits for 155th Street is its perception as downtown, plenty of vacant, available land and its geographic center of the city's existing boundaries. The detractions include the time it would take to establish the area, high development costs and its distance from U.S. Highway 24/40 and Kansas Highway 7.
The advantages of 158th Street include its expandable commercial base, infrastructure built by developers already in place and its proximity to 24/40. The disadvantages include a perception of 158th as not being a true downtown and the street not being located in the center of existing boundaries.
Another option city planners mentioned Monday night was revitalizing streets and buildings near 155th Street while developing a commercial node (Basehor's city hall, post office, library and commercial businesses) on 158th Street.
Public opinion certainly seems to be weighing on the side of 155th Street. Results of a recent survey of Basehor residents indicated a majority of respondents, 51, would like to see downtown developed in the center of town/existing downtown. Four survey respondents indicated 158th Street as their preference.
A study completed in 2003 concurs with the 51 residents in favor of 155th Street.
The Community Assessment, an analysis and goal-setting initiative completed by local business owners, developers and residents, reached a consensus that downtown should remain in its current location.
Basehor City Council member John Bonee, a proponent of developing 155th Street, again voiced pro-155th Street sentiments Monday night.
"Here you are getting a clean slate," Bonee said. "You get what you want, where you want it."
By developing 155th Street, the city could give potential new businesses another option besides locating near the highway, he added.
"The fact is they're building on State (Avenue) because it's the only place to build," he said.
"If you let them call the shots, they're going to go where it's easiest and you're not going to like it."
City codes administrator Mike Hooper used a recently closed restaurant, which was located downtown, as an example of what could happen to the proposed 155th Street downtown.
"I think Doc and Bruties is a prime example of what could happen," Hooper said. With the high costs associated with a 155th Street downtown, paying for the development of an area that could fold is a big risk to take, he added.
City Council president Julian Espinoza also voiced skepticism of downtown 155th Street.
"There's nothing here that convinces me this will happen in our lifetime," Espinoza said.
Judging by Monday night's discussion, it was tough to judge which direction the City Council is leaning toward downtown. However, Fuqua said city staff will continue planning for 155th Street until directed otherwise.
Basehor mayor Joseph Scherer remained optimistic for the chances of seeing the 155th Street project fulfilled.
"We are the last section of Kansas City that's growing," Scherer said. "We're it.
"Let's make us the draw. Why can't we be the draw? Why can't our downtown be that damn friendly?"