River authority retains development consultant

The Topeka –Shawnee County Riverfront Authority today entered into a one-year agreement with an economic development consultant to direct redevelopment efforts along Kansas River corridor.

The authority members voted unanimously on May 8 to retain Pat Downes, of the Oklahoma-based consulting firm Strategic Solutions, LLC, to capitalize on recent riverfront progress and accelerate the authority’s program of work.  Beth Fager, chairman of the authority, executed the formal agreement earlier today.

“The Kansas River project has enjoyed solid progress in recent years,” said Beth Fager, chair of the authority.  “We believe now is the proper time to retain a consultant to build upon this momentum and to continue the efforts to reclaim our river as a true community asset,” Fager said.

Downes has facilitated previous strategic planning exercises on behalf of the authority and other entities in and around Topeka.  He has also served as an economic development consultant to the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, the Topeka Lodging Authority and Visit Topeka, Inc., with the initial engagement dating back to 2003.  Downes played a major role in Oklahoma City’s highly successful river revitalization project since 1981, and has consulted with other riverfront communities.

Authority member Doug Kinsinger noted that the $30,000 contract fee for this year is fully funded through private contributions received from Topeka area residents and businesses.  “It is significant that many of Topeka’s business and community leaders reached into their own pocketbooks to fund the inaugural year of this economic development effort,” Kinsinger said.

Downes thanked the authority members for their vote of confidence and was quick to point out several specific areas of progress on Topeka’s riverfront.  “Conditions are right for Topeka to build upon the substantial riverfront momentum the community has already set into motion,” Downes said.

Fager noted the U.S. Department of the Interior formally recognized the Kansas River as a component of the National Water Trails system, a designation received by only a handful of rivers nationwide.

Downes made reference to several river-related projects already underway.  “The City is working to retrofit a water department weir to address serious public safety concerns, KDOT is working on plans to replace portions of the Interstate 70 viaduct that parallels the river corridor, Governor Brownback has impaneled a statewide committee to guide Kansas River development, the Friends of the Kaw organization is working closely with Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Secretary Robin Jennison to add more boat ramps and portage points for recreational boaters, and there are ongoing efforts to continue the renaissance being enjoyed in North Topeka, Downtown and the State Capitol complex,” Downes said.  “That is a very solid start for any community, and it is a true collaborative effort involving private citizens and every level of their government,” he added.

“Greater Topeka residents can look forward to a bright future, with a greatly enhanced Kansas River corridor serving as the ribbon that binds our beautiful community together,” Fager said.

Longtime riverfront authority member Larry Tenopir noted that the contract with Downes represented a significant milestone in the effort to reclaim the Kansas River.  “The authority is not hiring a consultant to do another study,” he said.  “We are retaining Mr. Downes to help us get things done, and it is very clear to all of us that he knows how to redevelop a waterfront.”

Downes met with numerous riverfront stakeholders and community leaders earlier this month.  He is scheduled to return to Topeka for additional working sessions May 21, and will be in town several days each month during the course of the contract.

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