Say it’s because of a new year, or say it’s because I’m always looking to improve my process, but I want to try something new with this column.

In this spot, I have answered questions from the public, spread word of new initiatives, and been upfront about my views on a variety of issues. On my Facebook page, I provide recaps of commission meetings to make sure everyone can stay informed. This is all part of my effort to increase the level of communication coming from the City of Atchison City Commission.

One thing I often hear after a meeting, though, is that someone didn’t know a topic was going to be up for discussion. Agendas are published several days in advance of a meeting. Still, unless you have requested a copy, or look on the City’s website, you probably won’t come across it.

To help correct that, I will use this space every once in a while to preview an upcoming agenda item that may warrant extra attention.

The upcoming meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21, has one such item. Recently the City was awarded a grant from KDOT to overhaul the appearance and function of our downtown. At this meeting, commissioners will consider accepting the grant and beginning the design process. This is our best opportunity to have a significant impact on the future of business in Atchison, with a minimal local investment.

This grant would open up the 500 and 600 blocks of Commercial Street to traffic and allow our businesses to operate in a more traditional downtown setting. We would bring in the look of the recently renovated 700 and 800 blocks to give our downtown a more cohesive feel.

It’s essential to keep our downtown welcoming to all the special events that currently happen on the mall. Removable bollards could be installed at intersections to close streets for festivals. The 400 block would remain closed to traffic, to serve as a plaza area.

Despite its charm, we need to face the reality playing out in our downtown. Most of the time, the pedestrian mall is missing the pedestrians. Businesses have adapted by turning their back doors into their primary entrance. Often, this makes for an awkward arrangement in buildings built long before the mall came to be.

We need to make sure our downtown is working for Atchison on more than just the handful of days we have festivals on the mall. Our City has so much potential, and we need to empower individuals to seize on it.

When my family moved to Atchison, we didn’t choose this community because it was perfect. I don’t think anyone would argue that it is. We chose Atchison because of its potential. We have a great modern hospital here, core manufacturing, and multiple options in education.

We’re not going to attract people on potential forever. Our kids aren’t going to stay in Atchison just because it has potential. At some point, we have to realize that potential. Half measures aren’t going to do it. Working around the edges isn’t going to attract the next business to open.

This change is about attracting and keeping families in town. It is about our kids growing up and having the option of a real career in Atchison instead of needing to leave town to succeed. We have to make sure our community is the best option around, not a place you end up as a last resort.

Re-imagining our downtown doesn’t accomplish this all on its own, but it’s another step in the right direction. I also don’t think that the day the project is completed, twenty new businesses will open. The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit. What we will achieve, though, is providing more opportunities for Atchison businesses to grow and thrive.

If we create the right environment, Atchison entrepreneurs will take it from there.

Shawn Rizza has served on the City of Atchison City Commission since January 2018, following his election to a four-year term in November 2017. His colleagues appointed him as mayor for a second one-year term in December 2019.

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