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Archive for Sunday, April 28, 1996

OTTAWA OFFICIALS WELCOME TRAIL

April 28, 1996

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— Rails that once carried steel wheels should bring development to downtown Ottawa in the near future, officials said.

A major rail-trail project should stoke growth and prosperity in central Ottawa, chamber and tourism officials said.

"I think it will be a good boost for the downtown area," said Lou Atherton, chamber director. "If you look at other trail examples, the types of retail and sales that have opened up to serve that traffic can only do great things for downtown areas."

Ottawa is one of several Kansas cities expecting benefits from what will be known as the Flint Hills Nature Trail, a 130-mile corridor from Herington to Osawatomie.

The project was unveiled Thursday, when the Washington, D.C.-based Rails-to-Trials Conservancy announced it had donated the corridor to a Kansas organization to develop the trail.

For Ottawa, the announcement touched off a double dose of excitement. The city will be the site of a T intersection between the Flint Hills Nature Trail and the 17-mile Prairie Spirit Rail Trail being developed between Welda and Richmond Prairie.

"We will be sitting at the intersection of the two premiere rail-trails in Kansas," said Murray McGee, tourism director for the Franklin County Convention and Tourism bureau. "We feel the economic impact ... will be felt throughout our community and the surrounding area."

Development of the Flint Hills trail will begin with a stretch from Osawatomie to Ottawa. Developers said they expected the entire trail to be open to hikers, bikers and horseback riders within three years.

The rail-trail announcement wasn't the only recent good news for downtown Ottawa.

Officials said work was progressing on an 8,000-square-foot Sears store on a Main Street site vacant since 1992. Don Higgins, owner of Sears Retail Store, 106 S. Main, plans to move his store into the new building.

City commissioners approved a tax rebate and low-interest loan last month to get the project rolling.

In other Ottawa news, Atherton said a job fair held earlier this month at Ottawa High School brought together 10 employers and 250 job-seeking residents.

Atherton said the two-day event got off to a disappointing start. During its first day, reserved for seniors from Ottawa-area high schools, only 26 students showed up.

"I think they (students) have the perception that the pay's a lot more" outside Franklin County, Atherton said. "And that really isn't the case. But also, I think, local industry and the education system need to work a lot closer together for career investigation."

Although Friday's turnout was disappointing, Saturday's session was a success, Atherton said.

"The comments from companies were that it was a good event for them as far as turnout, and probably as importantly the quality (of applicants) was excellent," he said.

Companies that participated in the event were: Our Own Hardware Co. Ottawa Distribution Center; Ottawa Truck Inc.; Wal-Mart Distribution Center; Havens Steel Co.; Duke Manufacturing Co.; Heartland China; Lester Building Systems; Midwest Cabinets; and Fashion Inc.

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