It has been one month since the Hays City Commission wrapped up the two-year process to develop and adopt a comprehensive plan.
The 179-page document produced by RDG Planning & Design is an all-inclusive concept for the city to use moving forward. Given the vast amount of local insight assimilated and blended with the perspective of professional community planners, the city decided the $123,000 price tag was worth the investment.
Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV spoke of the plan with enthusiasm, emphasizing potential projects would be driven by the private sector -- and not taxpayers.
Of course, infrastructure support for some of the projects will require tax dollars. But with the city's well-structured Capital Improvement Plan, which allows the commission to pay as it goes rather than opting for bonded indebtedness, anything from the comprehensive plan requiring large investments can be scheduled. Currently, the CIP has almost $11 million worth of priority projects in the queue, with a total of $70 million identified. But we anticipate new projects being added to the CIP as early as next year.
Downtown Hays Development Corp. doesn't appear to be on the same timeline. At Thursday's work session, representatives from the city-funded DHDC were on hand to discuss one of the projects identified in the comprehensive plan.
DHDC has been working on a pavilion near Union Pacific Park -- a project that was unveiled at last weekend's Wines and Steins event -- that is part of the downtown transformation. A conceptual drawing of the proposed 3,168-square-foot building was presented to commissioners -- along with a request for $276,534 in cash and in-kind contributions. DHDC already has raised $40,000 and has a donor identified to supply close to $260,000 if the city agrees to the request.
The structure does not feature central air or heat, nor indoor restroom facilities, but supporters believe it can be used as a farmer's market or a site for wedding receptions, family reunions and community functions.
Despite the initial $576,534 price tag, as-yet-detailed annual maintenance costs for the city, no anticipated revenue figures from usage or even a market study suggesting there is demand for yet another facility to host receptions and reunions, commissioners appeared receptive. Which in all likelihood is a precursor to passage.
But if this relatively minor feature in the overall comprehensive plan is going to cost in excess of half-a-million dollars, we only can begin to imagine how much full implementation is going to take. The pavilion, after all, is but one component marking the east boundary of the designated Core to Campus Promenade. The abandoned grain elevators are slated to become a vertical art piece with either a restaurant or retail space on the ground level. The Market Pavilion will be surrounded by outdoor public space with a performance stage and natural seating across the street. After an interactive water feature, the plan calls for landscaping, street furnishings and will be created on both sides of 10th Street headed west toward the Depot Place Development.
All this is but one section of one key district that only encompasses a few pages in the 179 overall.
The point is the Hays City Commission should not treat the pavilion request as a standalone project. It isn't. If discussion of the entire comprehensive plan results in the pavilion being designated the No. 1 priority amongst a list of hundreds -- fine. If discussion of the overall costs suggest half-a-million dollars is a reasonable price in the scope of things -- again, fine.
According to the plan just accepted: "Hays should implement the visions and actions presented by the plan through a realistic program that is in step with the resources of the community." If the pavilion (which is recommended to be funded via the CIP) ranks higher than a fire station, improved traffic flow, sewer lines, water supply, housing needs, bike paths, street extensions, etc. -- fine.
Commissioners need to be cautious not to turn down private funding whenever possible. But committing a quarter-of-a-million tax dollars needs to be done at the appropriate time and in the context of an overall strategy. To do otherwise would not be prudent.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry