The Pratt City Commission approved a resolution of support to accompany a Kansas Department of Transportation grant for a streetscape project that has been discussed for several months. If received, the city will pay about $219,000 of the $1 million grant, mostly from the so-called "bed tax" imposed by hotels and motels.
EBH engineer Paul Stoner noted, "there are always a lot of applications when money is available." Grants will be awarded in mid-summer and if the city is successful, construction would begin on the first four blocks of South Main in 2014.
Speaking for a task force of Main Street business people, Paula Vandenberg White, manager of South Wind Hospice thrift shop, said the grant is "a golden opportunity that just can't be passed up."
Main Street's sidewalks, plantings, benches, etc. have not been updated for 40 years and "much of it is in decline or deteriorating." The task force is aware of potential hardships for business owners, some of whom were seriously impacted by the 2011 Main Street replacement project, but the committee, as a whole, believes the benefits outweigh the negative aspects.
"It's long overdue," said Steve Parsons, owner of Parsons Jewelry. He spoke especially of safety concerns from sunken bricks and concrete planters just six inches high that blend in with the concrete sidewalk, and said there had been three serious accidents to pedestrians in front of his store.
The new design, which won't be finalized until the grant is awarded, calls for planters at bench height, new lighting, columnar trees that won't drop seeds or fruit and a brick accent strip that Bruce Pinkall, who has served as city spokesperson on the project, said would draw the shopper's eye down the entire street.
Commissioner Karen Detwiler reported on her conversations with 20 Main Street business people, and 10 said they were unaware any beautification project was being considered. Only two were "very much in favor," she said, while others were concerned about doing the project so soon after the Main Street replacement, doing the project in light of the current economy, or expressed disapproval for beautification when so many Main Street buildings are vacant.
Pinkall said that all Main Street owners or managers had received information by mail and e-mail and that he had contacted each one personally early in the project consideration. He acknowledged that the task force members were not unanimous in their support, and named three individuals who do not favor the project at this time.
Commissioner Jeff Taylor said the town has always had vacant buildings at times, and the situation "gets thrown up to me at every election," but during a three-year term, all buildings have had tenants at some time.
"I've never had a building I haven't kept rented," he said. "I don't make a lot of money on them, but I keep them rented. There's reasons they (vacant buildings) are not rented. If they were in the right hands they would be rented."
City Manager Dave Howard made vague reference to "somebody willing to buy up every building in town and they've got people to go in them."
Detwiler voted with fellow commissioners in giving unanimous approval to a resolution of support.
She cast the only negative vote for a contract between the City of Pratt and Interstate Holdings, LLC, for the sale of up to 25 acres on the northwest corner of Sixth and Fincham streets for the development of a 48-unit apartment complex, at a price of $7,500 per acre.
The contract is contingent upon action by the City of Pratt Planning and Zoning Commission, and upon the Kansas City firm receiving state and/or federal tax credits for the project. A $5,000 down payment would be applied toward the purchase price and refunded to Interstate Holdings if the tax credits are not awarded.
Detwiler argued that holding property valued at $187,000 off the market for a project that might not be developed was not good marketing.
In other business, the Commission:
n increased late fees for delinquent water, solid waste and sewer service from the current 2 percent to 5 percent of the delinquent amount. Electric delinquent rates were raised earlier, and the intention was that all services be impacted, but as each service has its own ordinance, separate action was required.
n heard an update on repair at the municipal swimming pool from Public Works Director Russ Rambat. Contracts should be ready for bid later this month and awarded before April with an expected completion of work by May 1.
The project should add 10 years to the life of the pool and could be maintained by city workers.