Housing options in Emporia may soon increase via the addition of upper-floor apartments in the downtown area.
Special projects coordinator Jim Witt explained to the Emporia City Commission during its Wednesday morning study session that an applicant had come forward with a proposal to install 10 new upper-floor apartments in the 700 block of Commercial Street.
Witt said this would be the first such project in Emporia to be completed after new legislation became effective July 1 allowing Kansas cities with fewer than 60,000 people to issue Rural Housing Incentive District bonds to renovate the upper floors of buildings at least 25 years old in central business districts for residential use.
“There is some indication that there could be more in the community if this moves forward,” Witt added. “There’s real interest, I think, statewide.”
The proposed apartments in the 700 block of Commercial Street include one three-bedroom unit, four two-bedroom units, three one-bedroom units and two studio units.
Witt said the developer plans to finance the project through local financial institutions and will be able to receive RHID funds to reimburse projects directly related to the construction and renovation of the housing units.
According to the Kansas Department of Commerce website, RHID funds are generated from the increase in property taxes that come as a result of improvements made to the property by the developer and can last for 25 years.
Witt said that the addition of upper-floor apartments would benefit the city not simply by increasing the amount of housing, but also by improving the quality of the buildings in its downtown area.
“Second-story residential is important for downtown revitalization, but also from the safety factor,” he said. “Electric fires on the second floor, varmint infestation, vandalism, etc., etc., all that leads to some deterioration of the main floor and degrades the downtown area as well as the buildings therein.”
Next week, the commission will set a public hearing for Oct. 20 in which the developer will lay out the plan and the commission will take public comment regarding the project.
In other business, Doug Bjerkaas of Dynamic Discs addressed the commission regarding a two-phase plan laid out by the company to help ensure that Emporia remains a key location for disc golf worldwide.
He said that while Emporia is widely considered a top disc golf destination because of its large number of courses, those courses would not be considered the best courses on offer.
“We have quantity of courses, but as far as world-class, this is one of the top ten courses in the world or even one of the top 100 courses in the world, that we don’t have,” he said.
The first phase of the proposed project involves the redesign and beautification of the Jones Park course, which would cost between $60,000-$345,000 depending on “if we were to get everything we wanted done to the park,” Bjerkaas said.
That phase would involve installing a new 18-hole championship course, redoing the existing equipment on the course to make them more memorable and unique, removing some trees to allow heavily wooded areas to be used for the course, putting in benches, placing posts and cables to better delineate the out of bounds markers, paving the gravel parking lot at Jones East along with adding a direct entrance from Lincoln Street and adding fountains to the ponds.
The second phase — which would cost $25,000 per year — was the regular maintenance of Emporia’s courses. Dynamic Discs proposed a city staff member for whom at least a large portion of their job is caring for the disc golf facilities.
Bjerkaas stressed that time was of the essence because Dynamic Discs wanted some of the most important tasks to be completed prior to the Dynamic Discs Open in late April 2022 and especially for the 2022 PDGA Professional World Disc Golf Championships in late August, which, he said, “might be the biggest tournament in the history of disc golf.”
He said the cost of the immediate needs was $57,000.
Commissioner Becky Smith clarified that any money that might be potentially directed toward this aim in the future would come from the special parks fund, meaning that it was money specifically earmarked for projects such as these and is not being diverted from funds that might otherwise be used for infrastructure or other important city functions.
She also asked Bjerkaas if Dynamic Discs had looked into any grant funding or if it was willing to meet the city halfway with some of these projects, including the potential city staff member who takes care of the disc golf courses.
Bjerkaas said he’d been working with Lelan Dains of Visit Emporia on grants and that Dynamic Discs was “absolutely” willing to work with the city in regard to funding.
Bjerkaas emphasized that Emporia would have to invest in disc golf if it wanted to continue to be an important site for that sport’s fans and if it wanted to continue to benefit from the economic advantages that such a status brings.
The commission will re-examine Dynamic Discs’ proposals at its Sept. 22 meeting.
The commission also:
Heard an update from Bruce Boettcher of BG Consultants regarding the FEMA project to address low water dams on the Neosho River. The project is still awaiting final word regarding FEMA funding and will officially begin taking bids once that comes in.
Heard a request from the Emporia Public Library to move its flag pole, install an electric sign and route electricity to light the flag pole and its sign. The project is already funded through the Friends of the Emporia Library and state aid money and thus will bear no cost to the city.
The commission will meet again at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, Sept. 15.