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Lenexa Mayor and City Council candidates on the issues: Old Town

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Earlier this summer, the Post asked our readers what issues you wanted to hear candidates running for Lenexa Mayor and City Council to address leading up to the Nov. 7 election.

Based on that feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire centering the issues most important to Lenexa residents.

Each day this week, we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to one question.

Today, we’re publishing candidates’ responses to the following question:

The city is moving forward on a major project to remake the Old Town Community Center and Senior Center, combining those two facilities into one $12 million activity center. Do you support this and other efforts to invest in Old Town? What other types of things do you want to see happen to continue revitalizing Old Town?

Below are the answers the Post received from candidates on this issue:

Mayor

Julie Sayers

Revitalizing the Community and Senior Centers has been one of my top priorities in my time as the Ward 4 Councilmember. I believe that reinvestment in the historic parts of our community is essential to sustaining the charm and vibrance of our entire city, and I have supported the funding for this project in order to achieve design and program capabilities that will support all of the various functions this building serves.

As the Community Center project brings more activity to the area, I believe this will also further strengthen the small businesses located in the Old Town shops and encourage possible development of the open tracts adjacent to it. Additional sidewalks, trails and bike infrastructure will also allow nearby residents to more easily — and safely — access the shops, Community Center and nearby park.

Finally, I was also proud to bring forward to the Lenexa Arts Council the idea for the public mural that will be painted on the side of the renovated Community Center, which I believe will be a way for residents and visitors to connect with the area and enhance the placemaking of the project. This type of art expresses pride in our community and conveys a welcoming message for those who come to visit.

Joe Karlin

I am proud to have shaped the $12 million investment in the Old Town Community and Senior Center through my role on City Council. Both properties needed upgrades and improvements, and I am so pleased we can provide these new amenities to our citizens. The new facility will serve Lenexans for generations to come.

I believe the project mentioned above is just the beginning of our reinvestment in Old Town. In the “New Look at Old Town” study performed and accepted in 2016, we analyzed numerous options and opportunities to continue to focus on improving Old Town. I fully support these efforts to invest in Old Town. More importantly, I think by working together we can turn these ideas into success!

There are two challenges that will need to be overcome to make this a reality: 1) funding, and 2) ownership of the separate buildings along Santa Fe Drive by many different parties. Both can be addressed through coordination of the city, building owners and business owners, as well as leveraging funds that are available for travel, entertainment and business promotion.

Finally, I think Old Town would benefit from the addition of a “destination” venue or offering. Having a new amenity to draw people to Old Town would further enhance the great offerings available today.

City Council Ward 1

Bethany Griffith

Lenexa should continue to invest in all parts of the city, so that it continues to mature well. I love the charm of Old Town and civic investment in that area will only improve it. The senior center is a vital community asset that is in need of upgrades, providing outdoor recreational space in that area is also overdue. There is also a need for improved sidewalks to improve accessibility.

Constant steady investment in all areas of our community is the most sensible use of taxpayer money. If the council plans for long term community improvements citizens get the benefits without undue fiscal burden.

Courtney Eiterich

Old Town is the heart of Lenexa, it’s our history and should absolutely be preserved and revitalized.

I support the new Community Center and Senior Center and can’t wait to see the programming that it will bring to the community.

I think there are definitely opportunities to do more in this area.  We have many of our longtime festivals and community events in Old Town and plan to keep it that way.

City Council Ward 2

Mark Charlton

Re-investment or capital investments based on balancing the needs of the legacy parts of the city along with future developments should be and will be beneficial for all. If there is one thing I did learn regarding my understudy in regional and community planning, it is that cities must re-invest over time in older parts of the community to maintain the quality of life everyone expects for the entire community.

I’ll support looking at ways to bring mixed use development to the Old Town Lenexa area to support that area. Furthermore, I wish to look at the possibility of even having a parking garage to help increase the parking count in the area. There will need to be a balance of paying attention to the historical nature of our Old Town with potential improvements, along with keeping in mind the community activities, i.e., the annual Chili Challenge, Freedom Run and Community Days Parade that occur in Old Town.

The community supports all the downtown festivals ever since I started volunteering handing out water when I was twelve years old at our first “Tab” Freedom run. Our Old Town Lenexa has a unique and wonderful history, and I would like to re-invest similarly as we’ve done for the Community Center and Senior Center improvements.

Jermaine Jamison

I strongly support the city’s efforts to revitalize Old Town, including the $12 million project to combine the Old Town Community Center and Senior Center into one activity center. This project will create a more modern and accessible facility, better serving the community’s current and future generations.

It will also send a strong message that the city is committed to investing in Old Town and making it a vibrant and attractive place to live, work and visit. Additional efforts I would support and like to see as part of an effort to revitalize Old Town include attracting and supporting new and small businesses that complement the existing character of Old Town and will appeal to residents and visitors alike.

Involve the community. It is essential to get input from residents, businesses and other stakeholders throughout the revitalization process. This approach will help ensure that the plan reflects the needs and desires of the community and that everyone has a stake in its success.

City Council Ward 3

Chelsea Williamson

Old Town needs a revival. However, I think Lenexa should strive for the opposite of City Center, focusing more on restoring the historic, authentic feel of Old Town. The city needs to preserve the historical buildings while ensuring any new developments incorporate historical additions to match the original architecture. An area I believe needs the most improvement is the vegetation and overall appearance, including the sidewalks, streets and areas around the railroad tracks.

I envision a “downtown small town” concept with outdoor garden spaces, gazebos, ponds or water features, walking paths, park benches, all the while keeping native species and preserving as many original trees and plants. I see opening the area to more small businesses, restaurants and boutiques, perhaps a local coffee or tea shop, cultural entertainment and children’s activities. I would like to see Old Town restored to a quaint, vibrant, quintessential small downtown area.

Dan Roh

I have strongly supported this initiative from the very beginning. Once completed this will offer Lenexa citizens another excellent gathering place to meet with family and friends and participate in a variety of activities.

It is critically important that we continue to hold the various festivals — like the Chili Challenge and 4th of July parade —  in the Old Town area. They are part of the tradition of Old Town.

We need to continue to encourage the current Old Town developers/owners to look into options to reinvest in their buildings and the city to continue to look at ways to enhance the surrounding area to make it as an inviting of a place as possible for local residents and others to visit. To that end, there are two additional projects in the 2024-2028 Capital Improvement Plan targeted at continuing our commitment to this area of the city: major street improvements to Santa Fe Trail Dr from Pflumm to 95th street and the reconstruction of the parking lot just north of Old Town.

City Council Ward 4

Chris Herron

Yes, I support the city’s effort to revitalize an anchor of Old Town, the new Community and Senior Center campus. I also support the city’s efforts to invest in Old Town in general. Old Town is the symbolic heart of Lenexa. Old Town is not the past, it is a source from which inspiration and community pride springs. The potential for new businesses and attractive residential areas can be achieved by continuing to look for opportunities to keep tax dollars in Old Town and Ward 4.

Ideas for efforts to continue to keep Old Town a destination for entertainment, food and services include: implementing beautification initiatives, such as planting trees and adding colorful landscaping; repairing or replacing broken sidewalks; offering incentives for small businesses to open or expand in the area; commissioning public art, like murals or sculptures to boost the area’s cultural appeal; continuing to hold festivals, markets or performances to attract visitors and create a lively atmosphere; upgrade sidewalks, roads and lighting to create a safer and more inviting environment for walkers and cyclists; continue to restore and maintain historic buildings, especially the train depot, to preserve the area’s unique character and heritage.

Possibly most importantly, establish and hold regular community meetings to involve more residents in decision-making and planning processes.

Michael Elliott

As the only candidate that lives in the Old Town neighborhood, this issue is near and dear to me. I’ve watched with some dismay over the years as this area was ignored by the city while historic areas in other cities thrive. I’ve spoken with many of the business owners in Old Town that long for a great, thriving Old Town Lenexa. The investment in a revitalized Old Town Activities Center is a great start.

We need the same focus and commitment in Old Town that the city brought to City Center. We can’t have a thriving ALL of Lenexa if we let one part of the city fall into decline and blight. Now that Lenexa City Center is off and running, I think we need more rapid development of projects in Old Town. I support road work on Santa Fe that’s been proposed in the Capital Improvement Plan. The citizens in my area should ask why it took this long for basic road upgrades (i.e. sidewalks) along Santa Fe Trail Drive. Is there money that could be better prioritized for projects like this?

The city council also needs to examine barriers to development of the vacant parcels in the immediate area of Old Town. The city should also update the Old Town study from 2016 that is significantly outdated and make sure it reflects today’s post-pandemic reality. It’s long past time Old Town Lenexa was given attention by the city to encourage the kind of redevelopment needed to keep this as a thriving part of our city.

Tomorrow, we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to the final question: 

As Lenexa continues to grow and change the city has been looking to revise its comprehensive plan, particularly its land use map, which governs how the city’s land can be zoned for residential, commercial and industrial purposes. What do you think should be the priorities for the city’s revised comprehensive plan? What types of development projects do you want to see and why?

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Staff Report
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