Community leaders met for round-table discussions Wednesday evening on the future of downtown Chanute.
About 30 to 35 people attended the 2 1/2-hour meeting in the Alliance Room of the Memorial Building that was organized by Main Street Chanute. Main Street Director Ruthann Boatwright said Thursday morning she was very happy with the turnout, which included a good cross-mix of building owners, business owners and interested residents.
“I couldn’t have been more pleased,” she said, noting that the turnout was what she had been hoping for.
The discussions included Chanute city commissioners Tim Fairchild and Jacob LaRue, and the new Kansas Main Street Director, Scott Sewell, was there as an observer.
The participants were grouped around five tables and facilitator Steve Parsons asked each table to discuss their answers to certain questions, before they gave the results to the whole group.
He said as he wandered around during the round-table discussions, he heard people saying many of the same things. Parsons said that shows a consensus and some unity.
He told the group that the meeting was to determine not only what to do, but what they know about the situation, what the goals are and what their beliefs or core values are. He asked participants to discuss what makes them proud of Main Street, why a healthy downtown is important, what Main Street’s role will be in 10 years and what they would change about Main Street if they had a magic wand.
Many participants said they are proud of downtown as an historical and cultural center. Several also said it is important because it is the heart of the community.
Fairchild said he sees Main Street’s role in 10 years as a mixed-use district. Chanute Regional Development Authority Director Matt Godinez said it would still be a place to eat, work and live, but retail would be a smaller part of it.
Wanted changes included architectural revitalization and becoming an event destination. Although money would not be an obstacle with Parsons’ hypothetical magic wand, several people raised the issue of funding, grants or barter to pay for it. The group identified downtown beautification, cooperation with the city over zoning issues and minimum maintenance standards enforcement as changes that could be achieved sooner, without the magic.
Parsons recalled his experience as Chanute schools superintendent when passing a huge bond issue to construct and renovate the schools in USD 413.
“Things can happen when you get people involved,” he said. “You may not need a magic wand.”
Sewell explained the background of the state’s Main Street program and said that the Chanute program was one of 25 that remained active after the state cut off funding in 2012.
“Be very proud of where you’re at,” he said.
He said it is better to mothball older buildings than to demolish them.
“That vacant lot will be forever,” Sewell said.