Since the Workshop: City Pursues Downtown Revitalization

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Posted: Tuesday, January 2, 2018 8:19 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Following a Smart Growth America workshop, a city in Kansas is taking smart growth principles to heart as several exciting redevelopment projects move forward. By finding new uses for its historic structures and working closely with the regional university, Pittsburg hopes to spur greater economic opportunity to attract new residents and keep students after graduation.

Pittsburg is a city located in southeastern Kansas with a population just more than 20,000 and an economy that was historically based around mining. Downtown includes many historic buildings, a reminder of the city’s prosperity in the early 20th century. The city has made some progress in revitalizing its downtown, and an upcoming, major redevelopment will create even greater momentum in 2018. This project, Block 22, will transform four historic properties into a "living-learning community" and aims to draw people back to downtown Pittsburg, both as residents and visitors. Block 22 is a result of the city’s strong partnership with the regional university in Pittsburg, Pittsburg State University. The proposed design will offer housing for PSU students, as well as dedicated innovation spaces and resources for both students and local entrepreneurs.

In addition, downtown’s old manufacturing plant, Dickey Clay, will undergo environmental remediation after it was shuttered several years ago. To make the most of these opportunities, plus a desire to create a long-term vision and growth plan for its downtown, Pittsburg sought assistance through a Smart Growth America workshop in 2016: Implementing Smart Growth 101. SGA awarded the workshop to Pittsburg at no cost to the city through an EPA Office of Sustainable Communities Building Blocks grant. During the workshop SGA worked with city leaders and other stakeholders to understand how smart growth principles could be applied to their long-term visioning and planning for downtown and left the workshop with actionable next steps.

The city and PSU have a strong relationship, with a robust joint city-university advisory board that meets regularly. A public-private partnership with the city, PSU, and a private developer resulted in Block 22, a renovation project located at a major intersection in downtown scheduled to open in the fall of 2018. The four building project includes 100 student apartments, a 16,000 sq. ft. business incubator space through PSU’s Center for Innovation and Business Development, and ground floor commercial and retail spaces. Block 22 will bring a new youthful energy to downtown and provide the city with opportunities to seed new businesses through co-working space and makerspace.

Block 22 also helps the city market other buildings in downtown to other potential businesses. In addition, Pittsburg is considering closing two alleyways bordering Block 22 to motorized vehicles, creating pedestrian plazas. The city is also working with PSU to create unified wayfinding signage throughout the community and a pedestrian and bicycle path between downtown and the PSU campus.

Another major redevelopment opportunity in Pittsburg is the former Dickey Clay plant which closed several years ago. While the plant will require brownfield remediation before redevelopment, Pittsburg is beginning to create a vision for the site, a Mid-City Renaissance District, that celebrates the city’s industrial history and cultural identity. Residential, retail, office, and light industrial units will be focused around recreational amenities and greenspace with opportunities to incorporate local arts and culture.

City representatives have attended several recent national brownfields conferences to learn how other places have successfully redeveloped similar sites in their communities and are working to implement other lessons from the Smart Growth 101 workshop.

"The Smart Growth America workshop held in Pittsburg provided our community with a common language and a common vision for the future of our city, and also inspired participants to become more engaged in shaping the future of our community," said Becky Gray, Pittsburg’s Director of Community Development and Housing. "The progress we have seen in the downtown district since the workshop has been staggering: over $18 million in historic redevelopment projects, expansion of several locally-owned businesses, a record-breaking Small Business Saturday, and a donation of $50,000 from a local foundation to create a dog park."

While there is a lot of excitement in Pittsburg regarding Block 22 and other revitalization projects coming to fruition, some residents remain skeptical. The city will continue to proactively educate residents about the benefits of downtown redevelopment, and the workshop built a solid understanding of smart growth principles to help citizens and elected officials articulate a vision for the future.

SOURCE: Smart Growth America

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