Baldwin City Council eyes $650,000 investment in vacant lot as downtown boost

photo by: Elvyn Jones

The Baldwin City Council has earmarked $650,000 to develop the empty lot in the 700 block of High Street into a multi-use park. Baldwin City Administrator Glenn Rodden said proposed features include restrooms, stage, splash deck and a large-screen TV.

The Baldwin City Council is looking to give its historic retail district a boost and provide the community with another amenity with a $650,000 investment in a vacant downtown lot.

Baldwin City Administrator Glenn Rodden said the city council has authorized $400,000 in bond debt to improve the vacant lot between the Baldwin City Post Office and Lumberyard Arts Center in the 700 block of High Street. Another $200,000 has been set aside for the lot’s development by delaying until 2020 the start of annual payments due on bonds that financed the new public works headquarters, which opened this fall.

As a next step, the city has requested that architectural firms submit proposals to create a design for the park’s development by Feb. 4, Rodden said.

The lot is an undeveloped city park popularly known as the Lotatorium and is used for functions as varied as the annual Chamber of Commerce’s wine-tasting fundraiser to a country music venue during the Maple Leaf Festival. For many years, it was the site of the now-defunct Baldwin City Community Theatre’s summer musical.

Baldwin City Councilman Dave Simmons, who is on the city council’s community development subcommittee, said fellow City Councilman Brian Cramer first proposed developing the downtown lot after he joined the council a year ago. Cramer, who once lived in Concordia, was aware of a proposal to develop a downtown lot as a park in that north-central Kansas city.

Simmons said he traveled earlier this month to Concordia to view its now-completed park and learn more about the benefits it has provided the city of about 5,500 residents. The Concordia park has bathrooms with a concession room, a small platform stage, a large-screen television and a water fountain-like splash pad that provides summer cooling for those standing on its concrete deck. The large-screen TV is a popular place to watch sporting events and movies, Simmons said. The city sells advertising for the TV to help defray the cost of maintaining the park, he said.

The Baldwin City Council has agreed that those features of the Concordia park should be included in the Lotatorium’s design, Simmons said. The list is based on citizen input gathered last fall at a number of public forums, through visits with students at Baldwin High School and Baker University, and from an online survey the city conducted, he said.

This month, Baldwin City Mayor Casey Simoneau appointed a six-person advisory board to help with the design of the proposed Lotatorium stage, Simmons said.

Concordia residents view their downtown park as a “community porch,” Simmons said. It is very active and has spurred activity downtown.

“I think they had a lot of restaurants out on their highway, but this park has brought business to the food establishments downtown,” he said. “There’s a new sports bar that specifically opened because of the park. It’s the downtown hub. Things are going on at the park almost all the time.”

Simmons said he would like to see the Baldwin City Lotatorium open by the Maple Leaf Festival in October.

“That’s the plan,” he said. “Once it is finished, I’d like to see 100 events there a year.”


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