Through a series of public meetings and workshops, Kurt Skinner and his team at Skinner Design Studios have been gathering information from the community as part of the downtown master design plan.
Through a series of public meetings and workshops, Kurt Skinner and his team at Skinner Design Studios have been gathering information from the community as part of the downtown master design plan.The plan will provide goals for the city and private business owners to strive for in bringing the community downtown and supplying a “wow” factor.Skinner was hired in January. Since then, he has been looking at various things on which to center the plan.“After talking with business owners, residents, teens and other committees, everyone comes back to the idea of a small town with a great community feel,” he said. “The concepts used in the downtown plan will incorporate ways to bring people of all ages to the area.”Newton has a diversified history, including the railroad, Chisholm Trail, Turkey Red wheat, and being a crossroads now of several highways — Kansas Highway 15, U.S. Highway 50 and Interstate 135. “We want to give the city a cohesive plan for the downtown area,” Skinner said. Following two public open house meetings Wednesday and Thursday, Skinner and his team will get to work finalizing the master plan.Skinner will work on the graphic ideas members of the community, city officials and business owners have shown interest in. Those concepts include using the area where Bank of America use to be located on Main Street as an open space that could be used for the farmer’s market and other events as well as parking.“Drawing people of all ages to downtown is the goal of the master plan,” he said. “Providing access to downtown from other areas of town via streets, bike paths and sidewalks will be included in the plan as well.”For Skinner and his team, there are two areas of the master plan to work on, which are the public side, what the city can do, and the private business owners.“The master plan will have a set of projects for the city to look at and approve, while the private business will see ideas of things they can do to help bring the community feel to the area using their business space.”Before the plan gets into much detail, the city ordinance will be reviewed to see what is already allowed and what needs to be changed to facilitate the type of change that’s wanted downtown, Skinner said.Once the review of the codes is finished, a list of projects will be prioritized with city officials.One of the areas Skinner will focus on for the city will be the area between city hall and the county courthouse. His idea is to make the area more “flowing” and easily accessible for motorists and pedestrians.There are projects in Newton that are not finalized that could change some parts of the downtown master plan, like the possibility of a new recreational facility located elsewhere in town. If that happens, Skinner said, the downtown master plan will need to be reevaluated and modified after he presents it to the city.“We’ll have benchmarks or milestones for the city to review over time as the projects are completed to evaluate the success of the plan and where changes may need to change has time moves forward,” Skinner said.The ideas given to business owners will help foster the ideas they have brought forward and show them how the ideas can come to fruition.“We’ll try to find avenues of funding for both the private and public sides of the project where we can,” Skinner said. As Skinner and the rest of his team get to work finalizing the downtown master plan, they still welcome community input. Residents can stop by the temporary office at 204 W. Fifth St. or visit the Web site at www.newtondowntownmasterplan.com to leave comments or ask questions.