ATCHSION, Kan. — The City of Atchison is keying up seven-figure investment in its downtown district, which if realized, would result in the removal of the Commercial Street Mall as we know it.
Joe Warren, director of administrative services, announced on Wednesday via a news release that a grant will award $1.5 million of a $2 million streetscape project. The grant is being enabled by funding from the Kansas Department of Transportation via its Cost Share Program.
The project is meant to convert the 500 and 600 blocks of Commercial Street in Atchison into a regular street, which will allow vehicles to drive to the center of downtown and park in front of businesses on an area reserved for foot traffic.
“That’s gonna be crazy, because you won’t have like, a mall to walk through when you’re like, with your friends and stuff,” said Brooklyn Smith, an Atchison student who frequents the mall.
Jayden Kelley, who accompanied Smith and several other friends in the mall on Wednesday afternoon, said she finds the concept of an Atchison, left without the pedestrian mall as it is, hard to grasp.
“Obviously, to us it would be different, because we’ve been here our whole lives,” Kelley said.
Atchison City Manager Becky Berger, as quoted in the news release, said the resulting improvements will mirror the 700 and 800 blocks of Commercial Street, west of the mall. In recent years, that area has shown the most rapid economic growth in town.
Atchison Assistant City Manager Justin Pregont said that the mall area has comparatively lagged behind. This improvement has a realistic chance of fixing that problem over time, in his vision. At present, the project will not affect the 400 block of Commercial Street, leaving a small pedestrian plaza next to the expanded road, providing direct service to area businesses. About 80 diagonal parking spaces will be installed in the space.
“Is it immediately going to lead to a huge number of units being constructed on this block? No,” Pregont said. “But there are a number of buildings that I know of that have struggled to sell on these two blocks because access is poor, parking is poor, visibility is poor, mobility is poor. Those are the things we highlighted for KDOT.”
Berger and Pregont said this scale of investment would not be possible, would not even be considered, without KDOT being prepared to assume the lion’s share of funding obligations.
“With a $2 million price tag, we didn’t want to have local taxpayers bear that complete burden,” Berger said. “But this new KDOT program allows us to have a tremendous positive impact downtown, with only a fraction of the price tag.”
KDOT will provide further information, setting up a probable Atchison City Commission vote on the project on Dec. 2.