Updated Nov. 11, 2019
Downtown Mall – 500 and 600 Blocks:
There are many legitimate questions and concerns when it comes to the Commercial Street Mall. This release is an attempt to address those concerns. There is no solution that will please everybody, and nobody is dismissing countering viewpoints – of course those are more than welcome. The idea of removing the pedestrian mall is complicated and even emotional. This is an attempt to bring information to the public, helping to foster the transparency that the public deserves.
Here are some of the questions we will attempt to address – or at least shed light on the thought processes that are behind these discussions:
- Why is there a feeling that the mall has not been successful?
- Is removing the mall going to solve all retail problems in Downtown Atchison?
- Why now?
- What about the taxpayer money that was invested in the Mall just a little over a decade ago?
- Why can’t we use that money on streets and sidewalks in neighborhoods where it’s needed most?
- Why are we spending so many of our efforts on Downtown?
Why has the mall not been successful?
The success of the mall is at least debatable. City staff has talked to most of the business owners on the mall and many potential entrepreneurs / real estate investors who have considered opening businesses or undertaking projects on the mall. The general feeling is that the mall is not accomplishing one of the main objectives it was designed to do: drive pedestrian traffic to downtown businesses. In fact, the feeling is that the lack of vehicle traffic is a hindrance. The reality of today’s society is that absent a large shopping experience (like The Legends, Zona Rosa, East Hills Mall), most folks desire convenient and visible access to the front door of a business. Business owners also want convenient and visible access for both vehicle and pedestrian traffic. A hindrance – even if it’s only a very minor hindrance – like a pedestrian mall is a strike against locating a business there.
The mall was built in the early 1960’s during the federal “urban renewal” era and there were many malls built even into the late 1970’s. Most of those malls have since been removed. Studies have shown that a few key characteristics have made a handful of downtown pedestrian malls successful in this country. In any case, there needs to be a main draw for pedestrians adjacent to the mall itself. Either a major university, beach or other tourist attraction of some sort that is the main reason for driving foot traffic in the first place. Cities that have embraced Main Street and Complete Streets models have experienced turn-arounds in their downtowns with more investment, higher occupancy rates, and more pedestrian traffic. In and of itself, malls do not drive foot traffic. Here is a link to a fairly exhaustive study on pedestrian malls nationally: https://www.fresno.gov/publicworks/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2016/12/american-pedestrian-mall-experiment.pdf
The storefront development pattern with multi modal transportation access out front has been repeated with consistent success across human civilizations for thousands of years. The individual storefronts are easily modified for various types of end users over time. The pedestrian mall was an experimental departure from that classic development pattern and this effort aims to restore the traditional storefront development pattern to increase the opportunity for economic activity in downtown Atchison.
City staff has also done its own local analysis of the downtown real estate situation. From 2014-2019, addresses in the 500 block of Commercial St. have lost about 7% of their collective property valuation. In the 700 block, during that same timeframe, valuations have increased 39%. All you have to do is walk down the 500-600 blocks and compare the number of empty storefronts to the 700-800 blocks and it’s easy to see a tremendous difference. This analysis isn’t statistically bulletproof, but it is exceedingly strong evidence. Businesses and entrepreneurs are investing in the 300 and 700 blocks of Commercial more so than in the 500 and 600 blocks of Commercial.
Is removing the mall going to solve all retail problems in Downtown Atchison?
Of course not. Removing the mall isn’t a solve-all. There is no silver bullet. But if the idea is that the mall is hurting and not helping local downtown businesses, isn’t it our responsibility as a community to look at its removal? If we want Downtown businesses to be successful, we should be providing a built environment that maximizes the opportunity for small businesses and investors to succeed. Regardless of how retail evolves in the future, the City is focused on lowering barriers to entry for businesses of all kinds, especially downtown.
Knowing what we do about the unsuccessful nature of pedestrian malls in downtown settings without a major natural pedestrian draw nearby, the city has looked at the possibility of removing the mall for a few years. The biggest problem has always been the price tag. Commissioners and staff alike thought the $2 million price was pretty steep in a community where resources are slim to begin with. When KDOT announce a few weeks ago that there would be a new statewide grant program designed to enhance transportation with an economic development benefit, it was as if the prayers of some were being answered.
Obviously, the state decision-makers agree that this is a worthwhile investment – which is why we were one of only 22 grants awarded among 92 statewide applicants. With the state footing 75% of the bill – money that was going to be spent in a Kansas community whether we applied or not – staff felt it was our responsibility to see if we would qualify.
What about the taxpayer money that was invested in the Mall just a little over a decade ago?
The mall renovations from about 12 years ago were an investment by city leaders to try and infuse life into Downtown Atchison. As with any investment, there wasn’t a guaranteed return. Also, as with any investment, just because the return isn’t what you hoped, that doesn’t preclude you from trying to make different investments in the future. You simply must learn from past experiences and do your best moving forward. If we believe that allowing vehicle traffic on the 500 and 600 blocks of Commercial Street can eliminate an important barrier to business success and future investment, we would be negligent to not make this attempt.
Why can’t we use that money on streets and sidewalks in neighborhoods where it’s needed most?
Most of City staff, and all of City leadership, lives in Atchison. We understand the state of roads and sidewalks (when even present) in neighborhoods in this community. There is a real need and this investment in the mall does not minimize that need. This grant is specifically for the mall project – applying for the same money for neighborhood streets and/or sidewalks would not have been a winning formula. We have and will continue to seek grants for those types of projects. We also have our 2020 Streets Project already in the beginning stages, which will be a $1.25 million investment in streets in many neighborhoods throughout Atchison. It’s not enough to fix all that ails us, and that money will go quickly, but it is the best we can do at the moment.
Why are we spending so many of our efforts on Downtown?
The focus on improving Downtown and then spreading our efforts out through neighborhoods comes from two specific ideologies:
- Neighborhood improvements help people in those neighborhoods, but don’t impact the rest of the city’s residents. Downtown is the economic hub of the community and nearly all city residents can benefit from improvements there. When dealing with limited resources, we have to try to weigh impact versus cost. Focusing Downtown helps give a greater impact for each dollar spent.
- Since Downtown is the economic hub, investments there have the potential to lead to further city growth through increased activity, increased entrepreneurial investment and quality of life benefits that attract employers and residents. A city is only as strong as its economic hub and quality of life amenities will allow. A stronger Downtown leads to stronger neighborhoods.
South Atchison Trail Contractors: Why isn’t the City using local contractors on the South Atchison Trail project?
The South Atchison Trail project is being administered by KDOT due to the 1.17 million of Federal Transportation Alternatives Program grant funding that the project received. The project was competitively bid and KDOT selected the best and lowest bid from a qualified general contractor, that being Kansas Heavy Construction out of Tonganoxie, Kansas. Neither the City of Atchison nor KDOT determines which sub-contractors or suppliers are used throughout the duration of the project by the general contractor, although there are stringent quality control measures in place to ensure their work and products are of the highest quality.
Updated: August 9, 2017
Annexation Public Hearing: Is City Hall hosting a public hearing at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall on Monday, June 5th to discuss the annexation of the land from Pratt Road to Osage Road?
This is simply not true. The City is not considering the annexation of the land from Pratt Road to Osage Road and, therefore, a public hearing will not take place on June 5th. If the City ever considers annexing your property, you will be contacted directly by the City.
Updated: June 2, 2017
CSO Fee: Is the City charging a CSO Fee and not making any progress on the corrections to the system? How can the City pay for the quality of life items like the dog park and the new trail with this liability?
Thanks for the question!
First, here is a quick video introduction to CSOs, or combined sewer overflows, from Evansville, Indiana: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_zjS87YObA
With the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in the early 1970’s, CSOs became much more regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and in Kansas, by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). After the Clean Water Act was passed, federal grant and loan programs were offered to cities to help remediate their CSO issues. Some of those programs even offered 90% federal funding for sewer separation projects. Other CSO cities in Kansas, like Lawrence and Topeka, took advantage of federal funding through grant and loan programs to remediate their combined sewers decades ago. At the time, the City of Atchison, in addition to Kansas City, KS, and Kansas City, MO largely chose not to participate in those programs, fearing that the cost was too burdensome to residents and businesses.
Fast forward several decades to 2009. Atchison had not made much progress on the City’s CSO issues. In September of 2009, KDHE issued an Administrative Order that would have required the City to solve its $140 million CSO issue in just 20 years. There are no longer federal funding programs to assist cities in solving their CSO issues, so 100% of the funding must be local. Projections from City staff showed that the City would have to raise utility bills to over $500 per month to comply with the order. The City filed a notice of appeal and entered into a two-year process to negotiate a consent order.
In December of 2011, the City entered into a consent agreement with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to remediate the City’s combined sewer system (CSO). In the end, the City entered into an agreement that would allow the City to raise rates over five years from roughly $1.5 million a year to 2% of median household income, or $3.1 million per year, which is still a difficult burden on the community, but is much better than the $8.5 million per year that would have been required under the original Administrative Order. Some have used the term “unfunded mandate” to describe the CSO issue that our community is facing. Thirty years ago, this was a partially funded mandate, although our community chose not to participate in those programs. Today, it absolutely is an unfunded mandate.
The consent order will allow the City to solve the CSO issue over the next 40-80 years with the revenue that the City is required to collect. The consent order is designed to allow the City to make progress on the CSO issue and to still be able to afford items that are important to the quality of life for our citizens.
In April of 2015, the City started charging a CSO fee of $13.32 a month and eliminated the City’s trash fee of $13.32 per month. (The City is now paying for residential trash through the proceeds of the 1993 Sales Tax for solid waste and joint communications.) The proceeds from the CSO fee are put toward the City’s Sewer Fund to assist with funding CSO remediation projects and long overdue upgrades to the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Since signing the consent order the following projects have been completed.
4th Street Sewer Separation – 2012 $521,920
UltraViolet Light Treatment Process @ Waste Water Treatment Plant 2013 $1,128,139
Mechanical Bar Screen Installation @ Waste Water Treatment Plant 2015 $96,629
Grit Classifier, Pista Grit Pump, Conveyor System Replacement @ North Headworks Pump Station – 2015 $153,672
Secondary Clarifier Cover Installation – 2015 $60,000
Aeration Basin Blower Rehabilitations – 2015 $10,134
The following Project is underway:
Flood Gate Automation (Eliminates Dry Weather CSO Bypass) – 2016 $499,300 (Actual Cost)
These projects are scheduled for next year:
Trickling Filter Rehabilitation @ Waste Water Treatment Plant – 2017 $375,000 (Estimated)
Primary Clarifier Rehabilitation @ Waste Water Treatment Plant – 2017 $225,000 (Estimated)
These projects are scheduled in the next three years:
Dam 6 Overflow Pipe Separation – 2017-2018 $2,000,000 (Estimated)
11th and 14th Street CSO Separation or Store & Treat Project – 2018-2019 $4,000,000+ (Estimated)
Quality of Life Projects (Cost of Quality of Life Items from the Question)
Dog Park $22,735 (Actual Cost)
US-73 Trail Project $178,765 (Estimated Cost to City)
Updated July 15, 2016
Fire Truck At New Ambulance Station: Has the City committed $100,000 for the new ambulance station to house a fire truck?
Thanks for the question. The City Manager and Assistant City Manager had lunch with a now former County Commissioner and talked about the future of EMS service in Atchison. During the course of the conversation, they were asked if there would ever be a need another fire station. The City officials responded that there was not currently a need and any need would be much further into the future. Asked where the future need might occur City staff responded it would be on the west side of town.
City officials never had any further conversations on the matter, and they were not asked to participate in any of the planning for the new facility. There was never any discussion of the City providing any financial support for a County EMS facility as the County was designing the facility.
Updated July 8, 2016
EMS Service: I heard that the City only thought half of the county should have EMS service. Is this true?
This is not true.
In the summer of 2015, Atchison County purchased a building at 10443 US 59 to house County EMS. City Officials were contacted by citizens that were concerned about increased EMS response times within the City of Atchison as a result of relocating the facility from North 3rd Street to the far southwest corner of the City.
At the August 3rd City Commission meeting, City Commissioners reviewed computer generated response time modeling that showed a significant increase in response times for a majority of city residents. As a result, the Atchison City Commission voted unanimously (5-0) to adopt Resolution 2991, imploring Atchison County to reconsider the location of the EMS building due to the adverse effect on in-city response times.
On August 18, 2016, City Commissioners and staff met with the Atchison County Commission to discuss the proposed EMS facility. City Officials asked County Commissioners if they could put together a plan to provide a combined City/County EMS service and present it at an upcoming Joint City-County Commission meeting on September 21st. County Commissioners agreed to the meeting, but wanted the presentation to occur two weeks earlier, on September 8, 2015.http://www.atchisoncountyks.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/1115?fileID=272
City staff worked quickly to meet the September 8, 2015 deadline and present the following presentation: https://prezi.com/1qqlsdv4bqih/improved-ems-service-delivery-in-atchison-county/.
Due to the limited time the City had to analyze the service options, the plan presented by City Officials included two service providers. The City of Atchison could provide EMS in the eastern district of the County for a relatively low cost of $125,000 per year. However, the modeling done by the City showed that the cost to provide the same service in the western half of the County would quadruple. Based on the City’s estimates, Tech, Inc could cover the western half of the County at a lower cost than the City. The City firmly believes that all citizens should have quality EMS service and never suggested that the western half of the County should be without service. The City simply realized that they could not service the western half of the County at a lower cost than Tech, Inc could. The City was very clear that they would be willing to provide full coverage to the western half of the County if a private contractor was unable or unwilling to do so.
Updated July 8, 2016
City/County Consolidation: Will the City and County consolidate if a certain candidate is elected?
No, this rumor is false.
There are a number of steps that would be involved in city-county consolidation, like the one that took place in Kansas City, Kansas.
First, the creation of a commission to study and design how the merged organization would function and govern would be required. The commission must meet in public, and provide opportunities for all citizens to offer input.
Next, the Kansas Legislature would have to allow for an election to be held proposing the consolidation and considering the proposed consolidation plan.
Finally, the public would have to vote in an election and choose to become consolidated. The key aspect of this vote is that it must be approved by two groups, both the majority of the Atchison County citizens that live inside Atchison city limits and the majority of Atchison County citizens that live outside of the city limits.
So, what if a current City Commissioner runs for County Commission and wins? Can they serve on both the City and County Commission? No, a person cannot serve as both a City Commissioner and a County Commissioner at the same time. The current law on this is issue (K.S.A. 19-205), states, “no person holding any state, county, township or city office shall be eligible to the office of county commissioner in any county in this state.” In other words, any current Atchison City Commissioner would have to resign in order to be sworn in as an Atchison County Commissioner.
Updated July 7, 2016
Election Campaign Signs: Can the City have campaign signs removed from properties?
The City has no authority to order any campaign signs to be moved or removed unless they are located on city property. Any right-of-way that adjoins private property is not considered city property. The only campaign sign regulations the city enforces are that they must stay off of city property and signs located on private property cannot obstruct any sight lines on roadways.
The Kansas Legislature passed a new state law in 2015 that makes it easier for political signs to show up in all areas across Kansas. According to K.S.A. 25-2711, “no city or county shall regulate or prohibit the placement of or the number of political signs on private property or the unpaved right-of-way for city streets or county roads on private property during the 45-day period prior to any election and the two-day period following any election. For safety reasons, cities and counties have the power to regulate the size and setback distance of the placement of signs to avoid impeding sight lines or sight distance.“
Please get permission from private property owners before placing any campaign signs on their property.
Updated July 7, 2016
Northwest Pipe Purchase: Did the City refuse to issue tax credits when a company was willing to purchase Northwest Pipe? They issued tax credits to the new hotel coming to town, how is this any different?
This is not true. Here’s the low down: to our knowledge, Northwest Pipe has not been approached with an offer for purchase. Neither a representative from Northwest Pipe nor a potential buyer for Northwest Pipe has approached the City requesting any information on incentives available to a potential business. We would be happy to sit down with any potential buyer and/or Northwest Pipe to discuss any business development that could transpire on that property, but to date, we have not been contacted.
The City does not have the ability to issue tax credits directly to a business, and the hotel is not receiving any tax credits from the City. The City did support the issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRBs) to finance the hotel development and they will receive a property tax exemption and sales tax exemption on building materials through those IRB’s. In return for the City’s support of the IRB issuance and property tax exemption, the City will receive a payment in lieu of taxes during the last 3 years of the 10-year IRB issue. The payments will be 25% of the total taxes abated in year 8, 50% in year 9, and 75% in year 10. The City is also receiving $100,000 over 6 years for the land to build the hotel on the 4th and Main parking lot.The City has unlimited authority to issue IRB’s.
Curbside Recycling: Is the City throwing away my recycling?
It is not true that the City is throwing away your recycling. Since the City started curbside recycling in January 2015, both trash trucks and recycle trucks have been utilizing the Atchison County Transfer Station to dump their materials; however, they do stay separated until the recyclables are moved to the Material Recovery Facility, located in Kansas City, Kansas. The County contracts with Deffenbaugh Industries, Inc. to haul recyclables to the Material Recovery Facility, where the materials are sorted and later sold and reused.
The City requested data from Atchison County regarding the amount of recyclable materials that are sent to Deffenbaugh. The data showed that from January 1, 2015 to November 18, 2015, the City recorded having collected 153 tons and the County collected 92.65 tons.
Check out this link to see how materials are sorted and processed at Material Recovery Facilities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CFE5tD1CCI
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Updated: November 20, 2015
Sales Tax: Does Atchison have the highest sales tax around?
It is not true that Atchison has the highest sales tax around. Atchison’s sales tax is 8.75%: 1% for City General Sales Tax; 1% for County Solid Waste/Joint Communication; .25% for County Sports Complex; 6.5% for the State of Kansas. Atchison’s sales tax is lower than a lot of our surrounding areas:
*Sales tax rates from the Kansas Department of Revenue
–East Hills Mall………………9.45%
Country Club Plaza…………..8.85%
*Sales tax rates from the Missouri Department of Revenue and the Mid-America Regional Council
Updated: August 2015
Water Service Lines: What do I do if I received a letter from HomeServe USA Insurance Company saying that my water service line is not covered?
The City is not affiliated with HomeServe USA in any way. The City is responsible for the vast majority of water lines throughout the city. However, as a homeowner, you are responsible for your service line from the meter to your home. For renters, landowners are responsible for the maintenance.
Before purchasing insurance, we recommend that you check with a local plumber to discuss the age and likelihood of failure of your existing line, as well as the cost to replace the line.
Updated: July 2015
Aerial Fire Truck: Do we really need an aerial fire truck in Atchison?
The aerial fire truck is very important to our community because it provides protection of public safety. This is especially true for the industrial plants in town. These industrial plants, such as Bradken, Bartlett Grain Company and MGP and others, present a challenging environment for firefighters to operate in.
To ensure it receives the maximum life possible from its equipment, the Fire Department maintains an equipment replacement program which outlines replacement intervals for all apparatus and some of the department’s major equipment. Based on the age of the apparatus/equipment, hours of use, parts availability, and multiple other factors that affect the operation of the equipment, it was established that aerial trucks should be replaced between 30 and 35 years of service. Due to budget constraints, it has been necessary to delay replacement of department’s 1980 100’ Aerial ladder Platform Apparatus and it is now 34 years of age.
In addition, the city is rated by the Insurance Service Office (ISO), which assesses building codes, fire protection service and water supply in individual communities and ranks them based on how these communities enforce their building codes, provide fire service and provide availability of water. The ranking scale is between 1 and 10; 1 being the highest and 10 being the lowest. The ratings reflect the insurance rates. For example, the better the rating, the lower the insurance rate. The city was rated as a 4, whereas the portions of Atchison County are rated as a 10.
Also, did the City sell the old fire truck for almost nothing?
It is true that the city sold the existing fire truck, but we did not sell it for nothing. The city utilized a national online website specializing in government purchases to sell the fire truck. The truck sold to a gentleman from the Houston Texas area after he saw the truck’s availability online. The truck is a highly specialized unit requiring an excessive amount of maintenance, and most fire departments don’t have a large enough garage to store a unit of this size. The truck was also getting to the point that parts were not readily available for the unit. So the department was forced with either trying to find a part from a scrapped vehicle or dealing with the expense of having a machinist produce a part. The fire department did a calculation of the scrap value of the fire truck and it was sold for a greater amount than it was worth. In the end, the fire truck sold for $6,200. In talking to the auction company, we believe the truck sold for a price that is consistent with the how much people pay for a truck its age.
Updated: May 27, 2015
Drinking Water: Does consumption of Atchison’s water cause cancer?
No, there are no cancer-causing agents in the city’s water. We have good, compliant water that is safe to drink at all times; however, in about 50% of quarterly reports, we do receive a violation for failing to remove enough TOC (total organic carbons) from the water. The natural presence of TOC in our water along with the introduction of chlorine, which is used to disinfect the water, can provide a medium for the formation of things called Trihalomethanes (TTHM) and Haloacetic Acids (HAA). Our water rarely goes out of compliance on either of these two items, but if someone were to drink extremely high volumes of water with high TTHM/HAA content, they could potentially face some health issues. TOC has no adverse health effects on its own, but it’s independently regulated because it can lead to the presence of TTHMs and HAAs.
The current construction at the water treatment plant is installing a new treatment process that will take care of this issue. The solution is a new disinfection method called Ozone.This method has seen success elsewhere in the world, but the chemistry is complicated and the construction is expensive. That project will wrap up later this year and after some adjustment time, we should see our Water Plant producing 100% compliant water 100% of the time about a year from now.
Updated: May 28, 2015
Chain Restaurants: Why won’t the City let chain restaurants into town?
The city does not decide which restaurants come to Atchison and which ones do not. We have not turned down any requests from businesses. If a business wants to open, and the land is zoned for a commercial enterprise then they can open. The city does not have any restrictions on what types of restaurants can operate in Atchison; however, most restaurants have set their own criterion for the locations of their restaurants. For example, Panda Express requires the cities, in which their restaurants operate, to have a minimum population of 65,000 people and a minimum daytime population of 30,000 people. Chain restaurants like Panda Express will not operate in smaller towns, like Atchison. As a result of the size of our town, many large chain restaurants are simply not interested in opening restaurants here. If someone is interested in opening a franchise in Atchison, please email.
Updated: May 26, 2015
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