The newest addition to downtown Sedalia is causing quite the stir among citizens.
A new gateway was installed on Ohio Avenue at Broadway Boulevard earlier this week, and it is meant to be an entrance to the downtown district, said Meg Liston, director of Sedalia Downtown Development Inc.
“Dating back to our 2008 Dream Initiative studies, one of the studies was on ways that Sedalia could improve traffic flow into the downtown, and it was felt by the consultants that completed the study a gateway would be an effective way to accomplish that,” Liston said. “There wasn’t enough of a natural gateway to attract attention of travelers down (U.S. Highway) 50, so they proposed several suggestions of what we could put there that would indicate the entry into downtown.”
The cost of a gateway
One of the biggest concerns is the cost of the gateway project. The project was funded in a number of ways: through a Transportation Enhancement Grant, which required a 20 percent match from the city, and the midtown TIF District, which has specifically allocated money for the streetscape project. But, the $407,000 also comes from the federal government’s Surface Transportation Program (STP), which also required a 20 percent match.
“Virtually all of the funding came from grants,” said City Administrator Gary Edwards. “A portion did come from the city, but the vast majority came from grants.”
The Streetscape Phase IIIa project, which includes the new gateway, streetscape elements and improved sidewalks, was approved by Sedalia City Council in 2013, but the project fell through. It was approved by council again last year, and during the May 18 meeting, final approval came for the $750,648.62 bid from KAT Excavation Inc. of Bates City. The gateway itself was projected to cost $174,464.68 at the time of the bid.
During the June 1 meeting, council approved an agreement with the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission for a Transportation Enhancement Grant for $284,280 for Phase IIIa.
Some citizens have asked why the money was not used on something else for the city, and Edwards said those grant dollars are earmarked for specific projects.
“The grant dollars are designed for projects such as streetscape and this is part of the ongoing streetscape project that started years ago, it’s one of the final phases,” he said. “It’s been discussed in public, a citizen committee designed the arch.”
Reactions to the gateway from downtown business owners are mixed.
“I just cannot see what they were thinking in the first place, I just really can’t,” said Penny Nichols, owner of the Mason Jar Cafe. “It doesn’t match anything historic downtown would be about, and it’s really ineffective in the way it has to be where it is instead of at the entrance of Ohio Street. … I can’t see the effectiveness of it at all.”
Nichols simply said “no” when asked if she thought the gateway would benefit downtown Sedalia businesses, but fellow business owner Michelle Swords disagreed.
“I am excited about it. I think it’s one of the key elements that’s going to help define the district,” said Swords, owner of Swords Family Pharmacy. “It’s going to draw attention. I think so many of the downtowns are so small, I think our district is so large I think it needed something like that to define this is something big instead of just one or two blocks like a lot of cities have left.
“… When you have something grand like that it naturally draws you out of curiously that there’s something down there. I’m excited about any improvements to the district as a whole because I do think it will benefit all of us.”
As for the structure itself, Liston said she is pleased with how the gateway looks so far.
“I like it a lot. It’s even better than what we envisioned on paper,” she said. “I like how it showcases the downtown streetscape. It doesn’t block the images of the structures on the other side of it, it frames them better than what I thought it would do … Definitely catches your eye.”
Liston noted the gateway isn’t completed yet. Soon “Sedalia Historic District” lettering will be installed, along with placards for the National Historic District designation and LED lights that can change colors.
Toby Dorr, owner of Easel Street, said the construction has forced her shop to close.
“Our business essentially closed — we didn’t have any customers so we had to find other things to do,” Dorr said. “Now, those other things have taken over so we’re closing the art shop and doing something else. … It’s pretty difficult for a city to close someone’s only means of income, it’s pretty hard to survive that.”
Dorr said she is worried about what will happen when the city decides to finish the work on Ohio, because due to their building’s location — she and husband Chris also reside in the building that houses Easel Street — they will be affected by construction work twice. She added that she does like the new arch and repaired street, but she doesn’t know if it’s worth the cost of losing businesses.
“I think that the result maybe in the long run will be worth it; the street will look really nice, the arch looks great,” she said. “Our building is south of the alley, but they didn’t replace our sidewalk or street, so we had to be closed and we’ll have to be in the next phase of the construction.
“Even with all the frustration it’s worth it in the long run, the street looks amazing, it’s really a plus for downtown, but I hope the end product is worth the cost.”
Despite some negative reactions, Liston said she hopes the gateway and streetscape will benefit downtown Sedalia, and reminded citizens there are more projects to come.
“We’re always working on projects to better the downtown district. It’s not a single project that eliminates other projects, it’s a project that helps further development, promote infrastructure improvements and it’s a way our downtown organization can stimulate development of empty buildings,” she said. “It’s not an all or nothing project, it’s a building block.
“We want to attract new businesses down here, want to attract visitors and retail shoppers, entertainment venues and things like that. Definitely we’ll continue to seek funding for projects that are worthwhile to benefit downtown and the community as a whole.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.