Phoenix committee takes on members from other groups

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Mayor's Phoenix Downtown Redevelopment Committee has recently added four new members from other committees whose goals are similar to that of the Phoenix group -- to redevelop downtown Fort Scott.

Some of the appointees were chosen from three groups charged with trying to reinvigorate downtown by spurring economic growth and expansion.

The groups have the same basic goal: to redevelop and repair the downtown area damaged by the March 11, 2005 fire.

The three groups from which new Phoenix members were recruited include the Downtown Revitalization Task Force, formed recently to create a comprehensive plan for downtown; the Outside-In Economic Development group, which is one of five groups formed from the Fort Scott Community Visioning project; and the Downtown Development Division, a sub-committee of the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce that has unveiled a five-part plan for redeveloping downtown.

The new members include Becky Mann, Gary Palmer, Julie Righter and John Woodrich. The committee now has 16 members. Other members are Gary Billionis, Cindy Bowman, Steve Buerge, Dale Bunn, Gary Emry, David Lewis, Don Miller, Richard Nienstedt, Brenda Parsons, Judy Renard, Stephanie Tucker, and Jared Witt.

Mann is chairwoman of the task force, which is currently working to ensure efficient use of money awarded by federal and state agencies to redevelop the area.

Palmer is serving on the Outside-In Economic Development group that is looking to borrow ideas from other towns and bring them to Fort Scott.

"We were like trains going parallel to each other to the same location," Chairman Billionis said of merging the groups. "And we wanted to get on the same track with everyone and work together."

Billionis admitted the committee hasn't been as speedy in trying to develop a viable plan downtown. However, the new members could bring ideas from their respected groups into the mayor's committee, he said.

"We wanted to bring everybody under one umbrella here," he said. "We wanted to expand the committee's size and wanted to expand the committee's challenge."

One goal of the committee is to push through repairs of infrastructures damaged by the March 11, 2005 fire. Brick streets, curb and gutters and sidewalks, water lines and sanitary sewer lines are expected to be repaired in the downtown area hit by the fire.

The committee has discussed ideas about what could go into the redevelopment after infrastructure repairs. Some ideas involve new buildings that house restaurants or loft-type apartments. Other ideas center on building a new city hall at the corner of Wall and Main streets, where there will soon be an empty lot once the Miller Block and Nelson Block buildings are removed.

"That's a very logical place for it," Billionis said in reference to City Hall. "It would be a popular option."

The committee, at first, focused on getting a developer for the lots affected by the fire. But no agreement was reached with any of the several developers who expressed interest.

The committee has since shifted efforts by adding new members from the three other groups. It has also broadened its focus from just development of the damaged area to development of the rest of downtown, as the other groups have proposed. The redevelopment will address an area of properties from Skubitz Plaza south to Third Street and one block east and west of Main Street to Scott Avenue and National Avenue, respectively.

The first step must be removal of the crumbling Miller Block and Nelson Block buildings. Those structures are expected to be demolished and hauled away in the next several weeks.

The city has secured about $1.95 million in earmarked funds from Congress. Most of that amount is for infrastructure repair. The city has to produce $350,000 in matching funds, which officials haven't decided how to fund yet.

That amount probably will not be enough to sustain a developmental plan, Billionis said. Officials have determined the infrastructure repair and engineering costs will total more than $2.2 million. Officials could fund the rest by getting grant money or taking it out of the budget over several years.