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Evergy Plaza, which will be located in the 600 block of S. Kansas Avenue, will include a splash park with choreographed fountains, a 50-foot CapFed On 7th Stage and a 30-foot digital screen. [HTK ARCHITECTS]

Evergy project set to be completed by March 2020 By Jonna Lorenz Special to The Capital-Journal


ork underway in the 600 block of S. Kansas Avenue has piqued the interest of Topekans curious to see the development of the long-anticipated Evergy Plaza, which is touted as a key development expected to draw people to downtown. “They see the increased use of heavy equipment and in the coming weeks, when things dry out, we’ll have the concrete contractor come in there and start those footings and foundations,” Darren Younker, project manager with MCP Group, said in late May. “Definitely people are starting to notice.” Even with the frustrations of a rainy spring, Younker expects the project — which will include a splash park

with choreographed fountains, a 50-foot CapFed On 7th Stage, and a 30-foot digital screen — to be completed by the March 2020 projected opening. “Things are going actually really well,” Younker said. “We’re still on track despite what I’m calling the monsoon season.” MCP Group posted 360degree, virtual-reality images of what the plaza will look like online, and visitors to the construction site can scan a QR code posted on a banner at the site to see how the view in front of them will change. “You’ll look at the plaza and as you turn your phone and hold your phone up to the plaza it will show you what it will look like when it’s done,” Younker said. “It has little arrows you can tap that will move you through the plaza. You can go stand

on the stage or pretty much any point in the plaza.” The plaza will be programmed with free events about 250 days of the year. The water feature can serve as a splash park during the day followed by colored light and fountain shows at night and ice skating in the winter. Lights on the sound and light towers are controlled in the same systems as lights for the water feature and can be programmed to match the beat of the music being played. “It will be something that is very unique,” said Vince Frye, president and CEO of Downtown Topeka Inc. “It will be something that will be available to all Topekans. That has always been our goal. That downtown is a place for everybody.” Pat Michaelis, chairman of the Downtown Topeka Foundation, which owns the

land and is the developer of the plaza, said the plaza is expected to bring three main benefits: 1) as an economic development engine for downtown; 2) as a source of community pride and enjoyment; and 3) to help forge connections. “I am hopeful and confident that it will bring us all together as a community, all sections of town, all economic strata, all colors, all people,” Michaelis said. “I just think it will help us come together and enjoy things as a community.” The construction of the plaza is projected to cost about $7 million, with the water feature carrying a price tag of about $1.6 million. The city allocated $3.435 million in transient guest tax money toward development of the plaza. Capitol Federal and Evergy each donated $2.5 million

to the plaza. Other sponsors include Stormont Vail Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas. John B. Dicus, CEO of Capitol Federal, said the bank has been located on Kansas Avenue since 1893, and the donation from the Capitol Federal Foundation represents the organization’s commitment to the community. “Evergy Plaza will not only be for the citizens of Topeka, but for communities across northeast Kansas,” he said in an email. “It will bring people from other cities to Topeka, increasing revenue for businesses, restaurants and hotels across Shawnee County. It’s a win-win for not only the downtown core of Topeka, but for all areas of the city. With a strong downtown district, other See VISION, G8

Management, programming seen as key to success of Evergy Plaza By Jonna Lorenz Special to The Capital-Journal

Sports watch parties, music concerts, movies, festivals and farmers markets are some of the possible events at Topeka’s Evergy Plaza set to be completed in March, and keeping the venue programmed is expected to be crucial to its success, stakeholders said. “Topeka is a very sportsminded city,” said Kurt Young, executive director of the Topeka Lodging Association and chairman of the downtown plaza design committee. “The number of watch parties that we’ll be able to have on the jumbotron on the plaza, people are already starting to plan and think about those sporting event watch parties. My take right now is that that’s going to be a very big component of the daily operations of the plaza.” The plaza will be professionally managed, and as of late May, plans were

underway to have an operator selected and under contract by July 1. “The operator is challenged with creating revenue through sponsorships, through beer sales, wine tastings,” Young said. “Our plaza is intended to be a free venue. We don’t anticipate having a lot of ticketed events. We want to keep it as free as possible to where anybody can afford to attend. But that operator has already been challenged and knows that part of his responsibility is going to be establishing a business plan.” Some cities, including Rapid City, S.D., which served as a model for Topeka’s plaza efforts, have had local entities form nonprofit organizations to operate their plazas. Larger communities have hired management companies for the job. “There are pros and cons to See SUCCESS, G9

Zach Snethen, project architect with HTK Architects, left, and Kurt Young, executive director of the Topeka Lodging Association and chairman of the downtown plaza design committee, stand outside what will become the Evergy Plaza. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

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‘Dynamic core’ progress in motion Market study offers clues for adding muscle to Topeka’s revitalization efforts

By Tim Carpenter timothy.carpenter@cjonline.com

Vince Frye is convinced forces are aligning to make historic progress during the next decade on reinventing Topeka’s downtown, riverfront and NOTO Arts areas into a unified commercial and residential hub serving as a magnet for people. Frye, president of Downtown Topeka Inc. and senior vice president of Greater Topeka Partnership, said the transition wouldn’t be an instant pixie-dust miracle. It’s going to require a cumbersome mixture of timely and targeted private investment, philanthropy and public incentives to place Topeka on the growing list of cities revitalizing stagnant downtowns. He said Topeka’s impressive collection of reports from consultants, including a new study of opportunities in the “dynamic core” comprised of NOTO in North Topeka, the Kansas River zone and a stretch of Kansas Avenue on the south side, need to be stitched together into a master plan by city officials. That blueprint will require reinvention of older properties and insertion of new construction to serve widening demand for retail, office and residential space, he said. It’s also about parking, pedestrian access, entertainment, employment and converting a natural barrier — the Kansas River — into an asset capable of drawing together rather than separating people in

Vince Frye, senior vice president of Greater Topeka Partnership and president of Downtown Topeka Inc., believes the downtown and NOTO areas are on the brink of historic revitalization progress. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Topeka. “This is the time the city and we feel is perfect to bring all that knowledge together with what we just learned in the market study, and say, ‘This is where we need to build this and this and this and this for the future,’” Frye said. Matt Wetli, with Development Strategies of St. Louis, said their market study for Downtown Topeka Inc. indicated the downtown overhaul could be marked by doubling of residential units to nearly 2,000, addition of 690,000 square feet of new or renovated retail space and acquisition of 300,000 square feet of new or remodeled office space.

In this evolutionary decade, the consultant said, Topeka’s downtown might be able to support a 150- to 200-room hotel and convention center, perhaps along the river. This enlarged map of downtown would stretch west past S.W. Topeka Boulevard, east to the railroad tracks, south past 12th Street and north to include the riverfront and NOTO. “It’s part art, part science,” Wetli said. “You have to have some imagination to think about what a place can become and how these quantifiable opportunities can be leveraged to be steps along the way.” The objective of city planners wouldn’t be to

aggrandize Topeka into something it could never become, but give rise to a unified downtown that anchored residents in place and was inviting to guests. Evidence of Topeka’s opportunities emerged in the latest market study. From 2010 to 2018, for example, Topeka’s downtown population grew by 1 percent. That doesn’t compare well with Kansas City’s growth rate of 39 percent or Wichita’s expansion of 26 percent during the same period. Brent Trout, city manager of Topeka, said addition of 900 housing units would transform life in the downtown, because it would guarantee a

mixture of people day and night. That level of population rise will inspire all sorts of commercial development that makes use of unoccupied buildings and propels construction of new structures, he said. The old U.S. Post Office in downtown Topeka could be transformed into apartments, while other structures repurposed into restaurants or retail stores. “A lot has to do with vacant buildings and no demand,” Trout said. “As demand will increase, those buildings will come out of mothball.” More than a decade ago, Topeka went through a visioning process that revealed participants

overwhelmingly thought revitalization of downtown ought to be the city’s top priority. In 2012, the Topeka City Council allocated $5 million to overhaul S. Kansas Avenue by widening sidewalks, narrowing the street and replacing utility infrastructure that was past its prime. Downtown Topeka Inc. followed a few years later by raising millions of dollars for pocket parks, fountains and sculptures on the Kansas Avenue. About 25 buildings along Kansas Avenue were acquired by local investors who recognized opportunity on the horizon. “That started creating confidence the downtown was going to actually be a viable investment for the future,” Frye said. Frye peered ahead five years to imagine what Topeka’s dynamic core might look like. His mental tour started at a public plaza area under construction on Kansas Avenue.   “There will be people sitting there during the lunch hour, listening to somebody performing on the stage,” he said. “You might come here at night and watch the fountains, dance to lights and music while people watch a Royals game on a video board. “We will have people living downtown in greater numbers. People will be walking up and down the avenue hearing music coming out of some of these buildings. More restaurants and retail, absolutely. We will have a gathering spot for the entire community. It will become the dynamic core.”

Proposed TIF district maps out ‘dynamic core’ By Jonna Lorenz Special to The Capital-Journal

A proposed tax-increment financing district known as the “Dynamic Core Redevelopment District” aims to cast a wider net for development. The proposed TIF district, which is bounded by S.W. 17th on the south, NOTO on the north, S.W. Topeka Boulevard on the west and S.E. Adams on the east, is an incentive to entice new developers to the area, which includes downtown, the riverfront and NOTO. Cody Foster, founder of AIM Strategies, which owns several buildings in downtown, said the way the boundaries were drawn for the TIF district demonstrates the view that Topeka’s core extends beyond downtown. “I think that (TIF district) is a pretty good example of how I think most people are viewing that entire area as a big opportunity, not looking at one over the other,” he said. Thomas Underwood, executive director of the NOTO Arts & Entertainment District, said the original plan for the TIF district was too limited north of the river. “It cut off at what would be traditionally viewed as the north end of the NOTO Arts & Entertainment District, which is Gordon Street,” he said. “We approached

the Greater Topeka Partnership and said that’s probably too limiting. We see NOTO as expanding. We see the people connecting to the Arts & Entertainment District as the potential for growth. We made the argument that if we’re going to have a TIF district to encourage new business development, we should cast a broader net than what they currently had.” The current TIF proposal expands north to the old Soldier Creek along with east and west of Kansas Avenue. “Our argument would be NOTO is a viable area,” Underwood said. “We are a destination location. We are recognized regionally. People want to come visit NOTO. With that said, we are also primed or an ideal or a very attractive location for the potential for new business development.” State law allows government entities to create TIF districts to try to attract developers. The districts allow developers to offset a portion of the costs involved in the development of their projects over time by using the increase in taxes generated by the development. “NOTO is not just these two blocks that everyone thinks of,” said Caleb Asher, board chair of NOTO Arts & Entertainment District and president and CEO of Sprout Creative.

“There’s such potential and opportunity to expand just the core of the district. To be able to come together with future development, especially with the outline of the TIF district and other incentive programs to say, ‘Hey, if a developer comes in there are other opportunities besides these two blocks that will hopefully support the district.’” Asher said the current TIF district plan is different from traditional proposals, which usually are proposed at the request of developers. “This is a little different because there is not a project right now so to speak,” he said. “I look at it as more of a resource or tool for potential projects and I think that’s equally as important.” TIF incentives apply to large new developments, and some local leaders are keen to discuss other possible incentives to help sustain smaller businesses. “To do a big development you have to have the resources to back up that development,” Underwood said. “I certainly understand a TIF district for somebody who’s going to come in and build a boutique hotel downtown. I think that’s great. I think that’s a fantastic thing. But the resources that are brought into that project vastly outweigh the resources of somebody who wants to open up a small bookstore,

The proposed TIF district, which is bounded by S.W. 17th on the south, NOTO on the north, S.W. Topeka Boulevard on the west and S.E. Adams on the east, is an incentive to entice new developers to the area, which includes downtown, the riverfront and NOTO. [2017 FILE PHOTO/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

for example, or a small retail shop or a coffee shop. And I don’t know what the answer is other than saying that maybe there’s a lack of parity. We can’t ignore the small businesses for the sake of developing new

large businesses.” Asher echoed the call to support small businesses. “What I do know is there are small businesses coming into NOTO every day utilizing their own funds and

their savings and deciding to put their business in the district, so I want to celebrate that,” Asher said. “But I also think the TIF district is important to diversify the area and provide tools for developers.”

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Survey: WU students concerned about downtown pricing, safety By Brianna Childers bchilders@cjonline.com

A recent survey conducted by a Washburn University student unveiled what’s causing for a divide between downtown Topeka and Washburn students, and downtown leaders are trying to figure out ways to bridge the gap. The survey, a collaboration between Washburn student Sydney Fox and Topeka Forge, revealed students have concerns about safety, pricing that doesn’t fit a college student’s budget and feeling unwelcome when it comes to downtown. It also became apparent through the survey that students struggle with learning about downtown events. “There’s just never been a partnership between Washburn and Topeka,” Fox said. Lindsay Lebahn, executive director of Forge, said they wanted to go into the survey with an open mind. “We really wanted to hear from the students exactly what their thoughts were,” Lebahn said. “A lot of (the questions) were pretty open-ended because we didn’t want to put any thoughts into their minds or any preconceived notions by wording.” Lebahn said they made sure to not define what downtown is geographically. The survey consisted of 12 questions and received 135 responses. Demographics included 67 percent female and 30 percent male; 41 percent freshmen and sophomores, 51 percent juniors and seniors and 8 percent five years plus. Surveys were distributed throughout social media and classes. Questions ranged from what people like about downtown and something they would change about downtown to how they learn about downtown events and what types of events they would attend. When asked what students like about downtown, 64 answered restaurants and businesses, 27 said artwork and buildings, 24 said events and atmosphere and 15 answered they don’t like downtown or haven’t been. Students also answered a question regarding what they would change about downtown, with 67 saying stores, restaurants and prices and 33 answering safety, construction and parking. Fox said safety is something that has been addressed with the Greater Topeka Partnership following the survey results. Lebahn said safety is a top priority for Topeka and board members have started having an open dialogue regarding the concerns. Mike Morse, Downtown Topeka Inc., board chair, said he thinks the safety issue is linked to a lack of communication. “I have never felt unsafe downtown,” Morse said. “I can say that my staff hasn’t either and we know there is not a place in town where there is more cameras up and more security than

Washburn University students from left to right: Megan Burnette, Jim Henry, Megan Gulley, Alex Steffen and Sydney Fox. Fox conducted a survey for Washburn students in collaboration with Topeka Forge to determine how students feel and communicate with downtown Topeka. [PHOTOS BY THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Alex Steffen, a Washburn University student, said he likes the events happening downtown but sees it as more of a business district.

Megan Gulley, a Washburn University student, said she would like downtown to communicate with Washburn by putting up flyers around campus.

downtown. There’s not a place around that you’re going to see that kind of coverage.” Megan Burnette, a Washburn student, said she has never felt unsafe downtown, but as someone who grew up in Topeka, she knows the area. “I think a lot of the safety concerns students have comes from more than half of our participants in the survey are from outside of Shawnee County, and so those that are from small towns feel like Topeka is a very large city so with large cities usually more crime,” Fox said. Morse said he thinks officials haven’t done a good job of communicating downtown has a lot of cameras and that when crime occurs around downtown, it can sometimes be 10 blocks away. “Perception is reality so we have to do a better job at communicating that there isn’t a problem,” Morse said. Lebahn and board members were shocked to hear students are told not to go east of Washburn.

“We don’t really know where that came from,” Lebahn said. “That’s pretty generic so that was one thing that was shocking to a lot of people and almost lit a fire under us and said, ‘Well, we need to change that from the get-go. So how can we break that stigma from the get-go so they don’t have a chance to hear don’t go east of Washburn.’” Survey results indicated events happening downtown are ones Washburn students are interested in but they don’t know they are happening, Fox said. When asked how students learn about downtown events, 95 answered word of mouth, 77 said Facebook and 15 answered “I don’t.” “There’s a big opportunity to get students downtown with the events that are currently happening, so instead of making new events they can use the events they are already doing, just advertise them in a different way,” Fox said. Fox said a lot of college students use the “event”

Sydney Fox, a Washburn University student, collaborated with Topeka Forge on a survey for Washburn students to determine how students feel and communicate with downtown Topeka.

feature on Facebook, but after speaking with the Topeka Youth Commission and learning they don’t use Facebook, pushing events through Facebook isn’t a long-term solution. Megan Gulley, a Washburn student, said she thinks there are a lot of things to do downtown for people 21 and up. “I can’t go to a brewery with my friends, or if there is a late-night drink special I sit there and drink water,” Gulley said. “I would like for there to be a place where they can do their drink stuff but I can still have fun with them.” Alex Steffen, a Washburn student, said he likes the events downtown but sees it as more of a business district. Washburn student Jim Henry said he hears a lot of students talk about Topeka not being a place for young adults. As for how Washburn students would like downtown to communicate with them, Gulley likes an old-school

approach of flyers. “I always think that’s a good option because there’s so many bulletin boards on Washburn’s campus in every single building so I think putting one flyer on a bulletin near a main entrance near each building would really help because students always look at them,” Gulley said. Lebahn said downtown is letting the survey results dictate the next steps. While steps have not yet been defined, Lebahn said doing something with Washburn’s Welcome Week is a possibility. “We have to take away all of their excuses,” Lebahn said. “We have to meet them where they are at; we can’t rely on them to go out and find us and find the things to do. So really bringing it to them and giving them a voice at the table, and making sure that voice can translate and tell everyone on campus what’s going on, what the issues are (and) how they can have even more of an impact on Topeka’s

Jim Henry, a Washburn University student, said he hears students talk about how Topeka is not a place for young adults.

growth.” Downtown should appeal to everyone from 2 years old to 95 years old, Morse said. “I think it’s going to help us understand that we need to do a little better job of focusing on events that focus on younger people and you can’t do that in a day, but by next year and maybe by the end of fall, we at least understand,” Morse said. Morse said with Evergy Plaza being built at 600 block of S. Kansas Avenue, he hopes more events geared toward a younger crowd can be staged there. “Can we do watch parties for Ichabod sports, can we do movie nights?” Morse said. “What can we do to utilize the plaza that will help us. I think we will have more arrows in our quiver once the plaza opens to work with areas to appeal to that segment, and we need to do a better job at understanding how we can get feedback and reach out to young people.”

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City to launch smartphone-compatible parking meters Other parking changes include addition of signage, removal of some meters By Sherman Smith sherman.smith@cjonline.com

The city is bringing sweeping changes to parking options in downtown Topeka, including the launch of a smartphone application, removal of seldom-used meters and the addition of signage pointing the way to available spaces. Officials expected to select a vendor by the end of June to provide technology support for hundreds of new meters equipped to accept credit cards. Anyone short a quarter and armed with a phone should welcome new technology that allows them to feed a meter with the swipe of their phone, or possibly add time or find an open space. The advancement is part of a list of improvements inspired by a 2017 study that looked at the downtown parking situation. “We are excited to provide our customers with payment options to better improve the convenience of our services,” said Brenda Hayes, the city’s parking division director. The new meters will be placed in high-demand areas, including the lot between city hall and the county courthouse. As patrons of businesses and restaurants increasingly spring up in the revitalized downtown, the city is trying to make the landscape less cumbersome. The study

Additional signage, similar to this Centre City Public Parking sign at 109 S.W. 9th St., will direct motorists to available spots under a new plan being implemented by the city. The plan also will include the launch of a smartphone application and removal of seldom-used meters. [PHOTOS BY THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

showed there is ample parking space, but many people struggle to find it — or are unwilling to walk a couple of blocks. “As downtown grows and needs change, we will explore ways to provide parking services in an efficient and convenient manner,” said Hannah Uhlrig, a deputy director in the city’s public works department. In the past year, the city has evaluated underused meters near downtown and removed 390 of them to create free parking. Meters were removed from a stretch of S.E. Madison between 4th and 10th streets, the 800 and 900 blocks of S.E. Monroe, the 1000 block of S.E. Quincy, the 1100 block of S. Kansas, and two blocks of S.W. 5th.

The city is trying to free up more space in parking garages, in part by clearing old wait lists, through a new plan that will implement sweeping parking changes downtown.

By taking them away, less staff time is needed to check and maintain meters that weren’t producing significant revenue anyway. Later this year, the city

plans to introduce an array of signs designed to guide visitors to available parking throughout the downtown. The signs on S. Kansas and key cross streets are

intended to more effectively direct people to parking garages. The city also is trying to free up more space in the garages, in part by clearing old wait lists.

Plans include installation of new gates and a credit card system that will improve the accuracy of garage occupancy. To make the changes financially viable for a self-sustaining parking operation, the city strategy includes altering the meter rates for highdemand areas. The new technology allows flexibility depending on the location or time of day. With council approval, the city also may try to stiffen the penalty for parking tickets. Additionally, the city is partnering with departments of motor vehicles in other states to track down individuals who fail to pay parking tickets acquired while passing through Topeka. The city now can look up licenses of parking offenders in Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Georgia and Iowa. The parking penalties remain a sore subject for some in the downtown business community who want to make the district as friendly as possible to potential patrons. Vince Frye, president of Downtown Topeka Inc., wanted the city to keep parking meters covered to encourage people to come downtown. “This is the only place in Topeka where you have to pay to park and risk the chance of getting a ticket when your only intent is to come down here and spend your money at a business,” Frye said. “It’s an area of commerce, and we need to invite people and make it as positive experience as possible.”

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Dog-gone good view

View downtown through the eyes of Boomer


The Capital-Journal

ant to know what the city’s “dynamic core” looks like from a dog’s perspective? Well, thanks to Boomer, you can. A 7-year-old black Labrador, Boomer recently got the chance to take a stroll around downtown Topeka and NOTO while wearing a GoPro camera. To witness all that those revitalized areas have to offer from the eyes of Boomer, check out our video at CJOnline. com. Boomer is from the Helping Hands Humane Society and is a very friendly dog who enjoys walking and meeting new people, so his recent venture was as a good a treat as any Science Diet snack. Boomer and other dogs are up for adoption at the humane society, 5720 S.W. 21st St.

Boomer, a 7-year-old black Labrador from the Helping Hands Humane Society, recently had the opportunity to take a stroll through downtown Topeka and NOTO. The venture was perfect for Boomer because he enjoys taking walks and meeting people. [PHOTOS BY CHRIS NEAL/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Boomer approaches pedestrians while strolling through downtown Topeka.

Boomer greets customers of Jersey Mike’s Subs, 718 S. Kansas Ave., during his stroll through downtown and NOTO.

Dance community gets in the swing of things at Jayhawk Theatre By Linda Ditch Special to The Capital-Journal

Taryn Temple is a high school Spanish teacher by day and a dog trainer at night. She also loves to swing dance. A year ago, she was driving to Lawrence and Kansas City for dance lessons, and traveling around the Midwest to swing dance events. Finally, Temple got tired of all the driving. She decided to start a swing dance community in Topeka. Turns out, the capital city is full of people who like this style of dancing, with a weekly attendance at the Tuesday night dance lessons ranging from 25 to 40 people. Special events in the Jayhawk Theatre featuring local swing bands attract 100 people or more. “I thought it would just be 10 of us dancing once a week,” Temple said. “I put the word out for people who want to come and Topeka just gave it a resounding ‘Yes! We want this!’ At our Christmas dance there were a lot of people who had never taken a lesson from us that knew how to dance. So, Topeka has a strong dance community. They just need a place to do it.” Swing dance originated in the late 1920s and early 30s as big band music became popular. It’s known for its fast, lively movements and fun. Jitterbug, boogiewoogie and Lindy Hop are all forms of swing dance.

About 80 people gather for Topeka Swing Dance’s weekly dance class at the Jayhawk Theatre. [2019 FILE PHOTO/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

“There is a sense of playfulness, fun and inclusivity with swing dance,” Temple said. “Everyone can dance. We are more about having fun with each other and the music than getting it perfect. And the basis of swing music is jazz, and the basis of jazz is improvisation and creativity. So, if you make a mistake, as long as you don’t hurt yourself or your partner, you’re just doing a variation!” It was that sense of fun that attracted Lawrence resident Emily Hartford to swing dancing. A friend invited her to give it a try, and she remembers smiling for

the entire two and a half hours. She left the lesson knowing she wanted it to be a part of her life. “So much of our life is spent separate from people,” Hartford said. “We don’t touch people besides a handshake and a side hug. This is a place where we come and connect in a way that the rest of our life doesn’t involve. We connect with people in a totally different way, we learn to communicate with more than just our words, and the community here is just wonderful. It’s all about fun, improvisation and inclusivity.” For those interested in taking a lesson, partners

are not necessary since everyone rotates and dances with each other. Temple also pointed out since you meet everyone in the group, friendships quickly form with everyone working to accomplish the same goal. “You’re having fun, making mistakes and being silly together. This close sense of community develops. It’s really lovely. We’re not looking for perfection. We’re just looking for someone who is willing to take a risk and put yourself out there. You don’t need a partner and we will welcome you with open arms,” she said. The lessons and special events are open to

everyone. At the events, people are welcome to just listen to the music if they prefer not to dance. Temple loves using the Jayhawk Theatre. She feels the more entertainment options downtown will only help attract more people to the area, and the historic theater itself makes events more magical. “The theater was built in the time period swing dance comes from, and when we have events in there, you’re automatically transported back to that time,” Temple said. “Sure, it’s rough around the edges, but you can imagine what it was like when we have a live orchestra playing and

everyone is all dressed up in vintage clothes. It’s like traveling back in time.” The group also holds Jump n’ Jive at Juli’s on First Friday Art Walk nights at Juli’s Coffee and Bistro, on S.E. 8th Avenue. The free event includes a beginner swing dance lesson, with time to enjoy your new skills afterwards. The restaurant also has food and drinks for purchase. The Tuesday evening lessons are $7 per person, or four for $20. They happen every Tuesday except they take the month of July off. The next major event is TopCity Swing the weekend of Sept. 28-29. There will be two days of swing dance classes, a Battle of the Swing Bands event at the Jayhawk Theatre, a jazz brunch at Juli’s Coffee and Bistro, a Lindy Hop flashmob downtown and more. You can join in for the entire weekend or pick and choose the events you want to attend. Follow the Topeka Swing Dance Facebook page to keep up on all the events and lesson offerings. “It’s never too late to start dancing and everyone is always welcome,” said Hartford, who attends the Tuesday night lessons every week and now teaches some classes. “The only thing that is different from myself and Taryn and someone who is new is we’ve had thousands of opportunities to goof up and try again.”

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VISION From Page G1

redevelopment areas, like Wheatfield Plaza and NOTO’s Redbud park, will find an energized community, rooting for them to succeed.” Jeff Martin, vice president of customer and community operations for Evergy, which was formed by the merger of Westar Energy and KCP&L, called the plaza “one of the pillars of the redevelopment of the downtown area.” “With the merger of the companies, we wanted to make sure that Topeka understands that we are a part of the community, we want to be a part of the community, and that we’re going to be here for a long time,” Martin said. Talk of developing a public plaza stretches back years, emerging repeatedly as community leaders and consultants identified such spaces as a key to downtown revitalization efforts. “As far back as I can see, downtown plans or studies have identified a desire for a public gathering space in downtown,” said Zach Snethen, project architect with HTK Architects. “Improvements have been made on the streetscape. Improvements have been made at the statehouse. Improvements have been made around town. But they haven’t ever really developed that fully visioned public gathering space. This isn’t something that has just been the last five years. It’s really been 10 and 20 years ago that have identified that this is a key

Construction of Evergy Plaza is projected to be finished by March 2020. [HTK ARCHITECTS]

component to successful downtowns.” Recommendations to develop a downtown plaza came about seven years ago from Omaha, Neb.-based RDG Planning and Design and later from tourism consultant Roger Brooks. Brooks had worked with cities, including Rapid City, S.D., and Topeka leaders eventually traveled to that city to see its plaza firsthand. “We’ve spent a lot of time studying and visiting Rapid City, South Dakota, where their plaza has truly turned that entire community around,” DTI’s Frye said. “Their downtown is thriving. The night we were there, there were about 10,000 people in the plaza for an event.” Cody Foster, founder of AIM Strategies, was

among those who went to Rapid City. “Legitimately it was packed,” he said. “They had this summer night concert series and there were people everywhere. Every single person we talked to there, from some of the people that programmed the plaza to some of the city leaders to some of the business owners downtown, they all pointed to that plaza being the catalyst that transformed that area.” He said Topeka has many advantages that Rapid City lacked before its plaza was developed, including 30,000 people who work within a six-block vicinity of downtown, the location of the state Capitol, and momentum from recent development. AIM Strategies owns several buildings in downtown

and developed The Pennant, 915 S. Kansas Ave.; Iron Rail Brewing, 705 S. Kansas Ave.; and the Cyrus Hotel, 920 S. Kansas Ave. The Topeka Lodging Association will help cover operating expenses with a Tourism Business Improvement District, which allows hotels to assess themselves $1 per room sold. Kurt Young, executive director of the Topeka Lodging Association and chairman of the downtown plaza design committee, said plazas mean different things to different cities. To understand what Topeka’s plaza should include, leaders conducted a survey asking citizens what they wanted in a plaza and then incorporated the top suggestions into the

design of Evergy Plaza. “I think what will make it uniquely Topeka is the fountain,” Snethen said. “That experience, it’s not what Topeka is right now, but the experience with the fountains and the lighting and the sound and all of that will become something that’s really unmatched in the region. Regionally there’s nothing else like this in the greater northeast Kansas, central Midwest region.” Snethen said what he is looking forward to most is “taking my 9-year-old son down there and enjoying it, watching him run around in the fountains, listening to music, just being down there and knowing that we’re going to have a good time down there just like we do when we travel.”

Those sentiments were echoed by others involved with the project. “Where I come from in California we didn’t have anything like this,” said Younker of MCP Group. “This is really, really cool. I’m from the San Francisco Bay area.” Younker said he is looking forward to bringing his children, ages 5 and 2, to the plaza. “On a personal level my wife and I are really excited about it because it’s gonna be good for the kids,” he said. “We want our kids to be able to go do stuff downtown and appreciate Topeka.” A recent graduate of Leadership Greater Topeka, Younker said that program emphasized creating a mindset of loving where you live. “It’s projects like this that do that,” he said.

Hill’s is proud to support the

Downtown Topeka Revitalization Project

©2018 Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. ®/™ Trademarks owned by Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc.

Hill’s is proud of our heritage in Topeka, and we are honored to help support and transform the downtown area. The Hill’s Pocket Park, at the northwest corner of 8th and Kansas Avenue, showcases the pet/human bond by evoking the simple joy and deep love between people and their pets.


Sunday, June 30, 2019  G9

SUCCESS From Page G1

both using a company vs. a local entity,” Young said. “If you use a company, the one thing you have to do is that company needs to understand their challenge is to maintain the local atmosphere, maintain the local spirit in the entire thing.” A Tourism Business Improvement District, presented by the Topeka Lodging Association will generate an estimated $350,000 to $400,000 a year from hotels that will collect $1 per room sold. But the annual budget is expected to be $1 million to $1.2 million. “We’re going to build a wonderful facility, but it’s got to have something going on a lot of the time,” said Pat Michaelis, chairman of the Downtown Topeka Foundation, which

With demoliton complete, work has begun on the new Evergy Plaza. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

owns the land and is the developer of the plaza. “There’s got to be the programming that is creative and interesting for everybody. It’s got to be enough variety that we all want to get down there sooner or later.” Identifying someone

EVERGY PLAZA TIMELINE March 2012: Tentative plans for the “South Kansas Avenue Streetscape Plan” are detailed by Omaha, Neb.based RDG Planning and Design, which also recommended that the city consider developing two outdoor public plazas. March 2014: Visit Topeka, Downtown Topeka Inc. and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce work with tourism consultant Roger Brooks on a branding campaign for the city. Brooks recommends development of a plaza. May 2015: The Topeka Lodging Association pitches the idea to reinstate the 1% of the existing 7% transient guest tax that was set to sunset to help fund the plaza along with the Jayhawk Theatre, Constitution Hall and the Evel Knievel Museum. April 2016: Nearly 3,000 people take

who could turn the plaza into a financially viable operation was a crucial factor in selecting a manager for the venue. “Obviously, they’ve got to be able to run it like a business and show positive cash flow,” Michaelis said in late

part in a Visit Topeka survey, offering their input on the design for the plaza. November 2016: Downtown Topeka Inc. announces the location for the plaza in the 600 block of Kansas Avenue at the northeast corner of 7th Street and S. Kansas Avenue. The Downtown Topeka Foundation, the fundraising arm of DTI, bought the property with private funds with plans to work with the Topeka Lodging Association and Visit Topeka to develop the plaza. February 2017: The Topeka Lodging Association proposes a Tourism Business Improvement District, which would allow hotels to assess themselves $1 per room sold to help finance the operation of the plaza. This is expected to provide $350,000 to $400,000 a year toward the operation of the plaza, which is expected to cost $1 million or more. April 2017: The Topeka City Council grants final approval to allocate $3.435

May. “To do that, for that person or group it’s got to be someone who’s professional at this. I’m not trying to be a volunteer organization to run or manage it. It will be professionally managed, where there are references and experience

and accountability. There will be benchmarks that we expect them to hit.” Specific benchmarks haven’t been determined, but Michaelis said they will likely be tied to such measurable factors as attendance, storefront

million from the transient guest tax to go toward the development of the plaza, estimated to cost $7 million to $9 million. April 2018: The Downtown Topeka Foundation unveils renderings prepared by HTK Architects depicting the plaza, referred to as “Top City Plaza.” May 2018: The Topeka City Council votes to authorize the Downtown Topeka Foundation to demolish three buildings it owns — 618, 630 and 632 S. Kansas Ave. — to make way for the plaza. July 2018: Capitol Federal and Evergy announce that they will donate $2.5 million each toward the construction of the plaza. August 2018: The Topeka City Council revises the contract for the plaza, allowing the Downtown Topeka Foundation to issue a request for qualifications from entities bidding to manage the plaza.

occupancy, hotel occupancy rates and surveys of downtown merchants’ satisfaction. “The people right down here that are our neighbors, I want them to be happy and rewarded for their treasure and their time,” Michaelis said. Zach Snethen, project architect with HTK Architects, said the operator will be charged with programming not only large events for the plaza, but also day-to-day activities that will draw people into the plaza. “It is a bit of a hangout spot,” he said. “I think about when I go elsewhere when you don’t really know the city that you’re in, you oftentimes find yourself downtown because you know there’s going to be activity or you hope that there’s going to be activity down there that can give you a little flavor of the local culture and local life in a community.”

November 2018: The Downtown Topeka Foundation announced that the plaza will be named “Evergy Plaza” and its 50-foot performance stage will be named “CapFed On 7th Stage.” December 2018: The Joint Economic Development Organization votes to allocate $1.25 million in public funding to the plaza. January 2019: Demolition to clear the site and prepare it for construction of the plaza begins. May 2019: Stormont Vail Health and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas announce donations to Evergy Plaza of an unspecified amount to sponsor the plaza’s digital screen and support weekly exercise classes, health fairs, youth-focused programs, 5K runs and other activities. July 2019: A professional manager to operate the plaza is expected to be selected and under contract by July 1. March 2020: Projected completion.

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Sunday, June 30, 2019  H1


Thomas Underwood, NOTO executive director, says downtown Topeka and NOTO are working together to achieve revitalization. “It doesn’t do us any good to have a segmented approach to this,” Underwood says. “It’s more of a comprehensive strategic approach.” [PHOTOS BY THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Connecting the dots NOTO, downtown blend revitalization efforts

By Jonna Lorenz Special to The Capital-Journal


vibrant arts district can be a crown jewel for a city, and Topeka is embracing the NOTO Arts & Entertainment District as economic development momentum builds both north and south of the Kansas River. “It doesn’t do us any good to have a segmented approach to this,” NOTO executive director Tom Underwood said. “It’s more of a comprehensive strategic approach.” NOTO’s role in Topeka’s revitalization has been underscored by such efforts as a recent grant from the Joint Economic Development Organization and inclusion in a TIF district proposed for downtown redevelopment efforts. Underwood noted that he works closely with Downtown Topeka Inc. and is involved with Momentum 2022. Along with downtown and the riverfront area, NOTO is identified as part of the “Downtown Regional Core” by Momentum 2022, the city’s comprehensive economic development plan funded by the Topeka Community Foundation, GO Topeka, Heartland Visioning, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library and United Way of Greater Topeka. “While we might be doing things in NOTO that are going to be unique to NOTO, we also want to make sure we’re sharing that information and vice versa with both sides of the river,” Underwood said. “Bottom line, we don’t want the river to be a divider between north and south. In fact, I think that with the riverfront development, I would say the potential of the river being a connector between the north and south is getting stronger every day.” Mike Foster, chair-elect of NOTO and director of ministry operations at the Topeka Rescue Mission, remembers when North Topeka was a vibrant area in his youth.

Top recent changes in the NOTO Arts and Entertainment District:


Elephants come to town on a mural in NOTO near the corner of N. Kansas Avenue and Laurent Street. Every month, more than 3,000 people visit North Topeka for the ARTSConnect First Friday Artwalk.

“Then it went horribly down and became a place you didn’t want to be at all,” he said. “Since the NOTO district was established (in the early 2010s), it’s just been a tremendous transformation.” Every month, more than 3,000 people visit North Topeka for the ARTSConnect First Friday Artwalk. The success of that event spurred many businesses in the district to open Thursday through Saturday year-round and talk is ongoing to further expand hours in the district. Still, Foster said his perception is that the district had been largely overlooked by city leaders until recently. “There has been a diligent effort I believe in all the planning that’s going on for the entirety of the city and what’s going on downtown to include NOTO as part of that,” he said. “That has really changed I’d say in the last year to two years to really embrace NOTO and to try to include us with what’s going on downtown.” The momentum in the district gave rise to a capital campaign and the May groundbreaking for Redbud Park. “That’s a hallmark that’s been identified as something the district wants and finds value in,” Underwood said of

Outdoor seating can be yours in NOTO.

the park, which will include art displays and an outdoor stage for bands and other performances. “I think that the visitors to this destination area will find value in it and it’ll be a wonderful complement to the district. That’s probably one of the

biggest things that we’ve identified in this past year.” The capital campaign, which was about $500,000 from reaching its goal by May, includes $900,000 for the park, $990,000 for the See NOTO, H5

Fundraising: A capital campaign to raise $2.1 million for Redbud Park, the NOTO Arts District and the NOTO Arts Center kicked off in the fall. Groundbreaking: Leaders broke ground in May for Redbud Park, which is expected to be completed in October. Murals: Numerous murals were completed throughout the district by local artists, including five by Jennifer Bohlander. Beautification: The district has made an effort to put its best foot forward with efforts to clean up the area, improve parking and make the district more attractive. Local artists created a new logo and seasonal banners that are displayed throughout the district. Communication: Communication between the NOTO Arts Center and area merchants has increased, including a monthly update about happenings in the district. District leaders also revisited the mission, vision and core values of the district and invited comments from business owners before launching the capital campaign. Website: A new website that includes all businesses in the district and an event calendar for the district was unveiled at explorenoto.org. Shuttle: Last summer, a shuttle service was offered between downtown and NOTO on First Fridays, supported by Downtown Topeka Inc., NOTO and the Topeka Metro.

H2  Sunday, June 30, 2019 

The NOTO Arts and Entertainment District held its groundbreaking for the future Redbud Park on May 14. The park will utilize the land’s existing structures and plans to be a space for sculpture, performance art and community gatherings. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Redbud Park set for fall bloom NOTO hoping for ribbon cutting in September or October

A rendering of the entrance to Redbud Park, where space is planned to be filled with redbud trees, sculptures and performance art. [REDERINGS COURTESY OF FALK ARCHITECTS INC.]

By Savanna Maue Special to The Capital-Journal

In just over seven months, the NOTO Arts and Entertainment District raised about $900,000 for the building of one of its key projects: Redbud Park. The park, at the corner of N. Kansas Avenue and N.E. Gordon Street, is a little over a half-acre in size and has plans to be a central communal gathering space filled with art and music. “In all candor we’ve been very lucky,” NOTO Arts and Entertainment executive director Thomas Underwood said. “We’ve been in the right place at the right time with the right message, and I think in part there’s a confluence of things going on that have helped the support for the NOTO Arts and Entertainment District and our capital campaign.” That’s not to say there hasn’t been years of planning, communitybuilding and dedication that have led to this point. Underwood said he is grateful for the public’s gratitude toward him, but is modest in saying he is only a team member of a very driven force committed to seeing the district grow. Redbud Park’s groundbreaking took place May 14. The district is working with Senne Company Inc. and Falk Architects Inc. on an aggressive timeline, Underwood

said, and is hoping to have a ribbon cutting in September or October. “We want to push it forward, we really do,” Underwood said. “We’re excited to work with local companies who believe in our project and want to see Redbud Park in North Topeka." Bryan Falk, the lead architect on the project, said the park will utilize a lot of its existing features. The 1,800-square-foot shed will be repurposed with an indoor stage, event space, reception area, bathrooms and a kitchenette, with a spiral staircase leading up to a mezzanine. Outside the large concrete ramp will be converted into a gazebo and pergola, landscaped and decorated with statues and other art, which Falk and Underwood said hopes to be on a rotating schedule to showcase various artists. The gazebo will act as a stage as well, with elevated seating and grassy areas for the public to enjoy. “We’re imagining during a First Friday or any other time there will be a lot of action happening around NOTO,” Falk said. “The stage will have a local musician and a place for people to relax and enjoy a show and mingle.” Clarie’s Corner will be a dedication within the park, with benches, a commemorative piece honoring the late Claire Swogger and redbud

trees. Claire and her husband, Glenn, created the Redbud Foundation, which focuses on arts, culture and the humanities. They were instrumental in the creation of the arts center, Falk said. The Swoggers donated the land for the park. Other major funding was provided by the Joint Economic Development Organization, Kaw Valley Bank and other significant private donors. “Kaw Valley Bank has almost 150 years of history in North Topeka. So, anytime we have the opportunity to support something that we view as a benefit to North Topeka communities, we try to do just that,” said Craig Heideman, president and CEO of Kaw Valley Bank. “In addition, the bank has a significant connection to the Swogger family and The Redbud Foundation. The park and the NOTO Arts District are just down the street from the main bank, so we consider the businesses in NOTO our neighbors.” While the park’s construction funding is complete, Underwood said there’s still much to be done. The capital campaign has a goal of $2.1 million, and will need those funds for district improvements, operating the park on a long-term basis and supplying art for the park. “We have faith in the community, we have faith in the individuals,

A rendering shows what the outdoor gazebo area of Redbud Park is envisioned to look like. The designs will be repurposing the existing building and concrete ramp already located in the space, and create a grassy area for community engagement within the NOTO Arts and Entertainment District.

A rendering of the indoor space at Redbud Park includes an indoor stage, event space, reception area, bathrooms and a kitchenette, with a spiral staircase leading up to a mezzanine.

A rendering of the back of the Redbud Park’s building showcases stadium seating, additional tables and a large sliding barn door to transition the building for indoor/ outdoor use.

small businesses, large businesses, and we feel like we’re going to get the ongoing support to

continue enhancing the district,” Underwood said. To donate to the

capital campaign or for more information about the district, visit explorenoto.org.

Sunday, June 30, 2019  H3

Officials believe downtown field house could be game changer By Tim Hrenchir tim.hrenchir@cjonline.com

Some other cities in Kansas are building field houses to take advantage of the rising profitability of indoor youth sports. Now efforts are underway to get Topeka into the game. A committee with participants from entities that include the Greater Topeka Partnership and Washburn University is gathering information as part of the effort to have a multipurpose facility built in downtown Topeka, said committee chairman Mike Morse. That arena’s presence would put an end to this community’s current shortage of indoor sports facilities while also bringing youth tournaments — and accompanying tourism dollars — to Topeka on perhaps 40 to 45 weekends a year, he said. “We think and believe and know that we can fill this facility up for the weekends — which will help us pay for it for locals — and have locals use it during the week,” Morse said. “And that’d be our home run.” Morse said he has heard a lot of excitement about the idea being expressed by Topekans. The concept comes at a time when the national youth sports market has doubled in size over the past decade and is now generating more than $15 billion a year, according to one company that tracks its growth, Massachusetts-based WinterGreen Research. Morse said Topeka has benefited from indoor youth sports

Topeka officials are exploring the possibility of building a downtown multipurpose youth sports facility similar to the 181,000-square foot Sports Pavilion Lawrence public recreation center in Rock Chalk Park.

opportunities to some degree by hosting swimming meets at Hummer Sports Park’s Capitol Federal Natatorium and the annual Kansas Kids Wrestling Tournament at the Stormont Vail Events Center’s Landon Arena. Still, he said that, for the most part, this community is missing out on the potential economic impact indoor youth sports could generate here. “It’s been a market that we’ve neglected,” Morse said. He noted that campaigns to build field houses have been initiated at: • Lawrence, where the publicly owned, 181,000-squarefoot Sports Pavilion Lawrence public recreation center opened in 2014 in Rock Chalk Park, near the intersection of 6th Street and K-10 highway. • Salina, where the 68,500-square-foot Salina Fieldhouse was built in 2017 in the downtown area using

public money, which included STAR Bond funding. • Garden City, where city commissioners voted in April to create a STAR Bond district aimed at paving the way for the construction of the Sports of the World Complex on that city’s east side. STAR bonds can be used only for projects anticipated to bring in tourism, Morse said. It remains unclear specifically where the potential Topeka field house would be located, or whether it would be financed publicly, privately or through a public-private partnership. Morse said he hopes to see Topeka build a facility resembling Sports Pavilion Lawrence. That offers eight basketball courts, which can be turned into 16 volleyball courts. The Lawrence pavilion also offers an indoor walking track, indoor turf area, gymnastics room, aerobic room, cardio equipment,

The Sports Pavilion Lawrence recreation facility offers eight basketball courts that can be turned into 16 volleyball courts, as well as an indoor walking track, indoor turf area, gymnastics room, aerobic room, cardio equipment, weightlifting area and meeting rooms. [PHOTOS BY CHRIS NEAL/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

weightlifting area and meeting rooms. Sports Pavilion Lawrence is booked for 35 to 38 weekends a year with events that include major youth basketball and volleyball tournaments, Morse said. During one weekend, he said, the place is filled with quilters. The presence of a similar facility in Topeka would attract out-oftown visitors who would stay in this city’s hotels, eat in its restaurants and shop in its stores, Morse said. A Topeka field house would also help bring young families to this community, improve its quality of life and make it more attractive to companies considering relocating or putting facilities here, he said. Morse said the presence of such a facility would end Topeka’s current shortage of

indoor practice fields and indoor basketball, volleyball and pickleball courts. He said youth sports teams in recent years have lost access to many courts they used to be able to use to practice at local schools, which stopped making them available for financial and security reasons. Meanwhile, community centers here tend to be fairly old and not particularly large, Morse said. But the presence of a field house would give local teams a place to practice, he said. Morse said he would like to see that facility built downtown to provide a central location that could easily be accessed by people from all parts of the city. “We don’t want it to be in a part of town that favors one side or the

other,” he said. “That’s not fair.” If the field house stood downtown, Morse said, visitors competing or watching events there might then visit such nearby attractions as downtown restaurants, the Kansas Statehouse or the Evergy Plaza being created at 620 S. Kansas Ave. Having the facility downtown would also provide quick accessibility to motorists using Interstate 70 while making it easy for them to drive from Topeka to the Lawrence Sports Pavilion, Morse said. He said the Topeka and Lawrence field houses could team up to attract major tournaments for which both would be needed to accommodate the number of participating teams, such as basketball tournaments requiring 16 courts.

H4  Sunday, June 30, 2019 

Dirty Girl ventures into NOTO Outdoor adventures business excited about expansion opportunities, location near Kansas River

By Phil Anderson phil.anderson@cjonline.com

If you’ve been secretly hankering for a life of outdoor adventures but find yourself more inclined to spend your weekends sitting on the couch munching Doritos, slurping Coca-Cola and watching reruns on Netflix, a Topeka-based business will help you get unstuck and discover the thrills that await you in your own backyard, even if that means traveling 20 or 30 miles to get there. Dirty Girl Adventures, which has been up and running since 2014 out of Jefferson County, has branched out and recently set up a base camp at a business called Compass Point in a brick building on the south end of the North Topeka Arts District at 800 N. Kansas Ave. The business, which is co-owned by Denise Selbee-Koch and Jennifer Woerner, works with individuals and groups by offering everything from hiking to kayaking to river rafting to yoga to live music concerts. Many of the outdoor adventures take place on rivers, lakes and trails within a 25-mile radius of Topeka. “Our vision,” SelbeeKoch said recently, “is to encourage, empower and motivate people of all ages and abilities to explore their full potential through outdoor adventure and connection with a community that promotes whole health.” Selbee-Koch said 2019 marks the sixth year for Dirty Girl Adventures, “and it is an expansion year, as we have moved into our new base camp at Compass Point.” She said Compass Point offers “outdoor and Kansas-themed retail items,” in addition to special events including retreats, weekly yoga classes, live music concerts and special events supporting whole health and wellness. “Dirty Girl Adventures has historically operated from our homes

Jennifer Woerner, left, and Denise Selbee-Koch are co-owners of Dirty Girl Adventures and the recently opened Compass Point outdoors shop at 800 N. Kansas Ave. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

in Jefferson County,” Selbee-Koch said. “We have always provided guided outdoor adventure — hiking from three to 30 miles, camping, kayaking at Lake Perry, Lake Shawnee and Lake Clinton as well as on the Kansas River, and whole health and wellness events focusing on mental health and self-growth. “We have long dreamed of moving into a base camp location, a place to gather and socialize, to teach and learn and to store all our stuff. We have a tendency to share what we love and enjoy, so we have branched into retail to share some of our favorites and some things we love. “We will expand our offerings to include more outdoor gear and eventually hope to be the local outfitter with the knowledge and expertise to best serve our customers.” Selbee-Koch said she and Woerner are excited about the opportunities that are opening up with the addition of Compass Point in the NOTO district. “We look forward to

providing more opportunities for adventure, growth and learning in the form of classes, retreats and individual social work services,” Selbee-Koch said. “We are excited to launch our Thursday yoga classes with registered yoga teacher Jennifer Seiben. In addition, we hope to provide more informational classes, hands-on creative activities, social time with live music and opportunities for people to learn, grow and connect.” Selbee-Koch said she is excited to see Compass Point become a place known for offering live, local music. A number of concerts have been lined up for the summer months with more to come. “We’ve already scheduled First Fridays through August, and we’re adding additional events now,” SelbeeKoch said. “Music will usually be between 6 and 10 p.m., with food trucks available for dinner.” Among guest musicians scheduled so far are the Gary McKnight Trio, Home Brew, Cryin’ Out Loud and Unfit Wives.

Selbee-Koch said it’s all part of a plan to connect with as many people as possible with Compass Point Having a standalone store in Compass Point, located a couple of blocks north of the Kansas River, promises to be a big boost to Dirty Girl Adventures and its many offerings, SelbeeKoch said. “We know that getting outside is good for everyone and that, more and more, our society is pulling inside,” SelbeeKoch said. “People want to connect with others and they want to get outside for adventures. They just need a little push, information and guidance. We love being able to support and empower others and believe that having a brick-and-mortar location will help us be more accessible to more people.” She added: “We have always loved and felt drawn to the NOTO district. It is also just two blocks from the Kansas River. The property that we purchased happens to be the perfect fit for our dreams. ... It’s in a vibrant, creative and

growing neighborhood, it’s close to the river and we have a great outdoor courtyard to supplement our interior venue. “NOTO is full of energetic, creative and motivated people who are hard-working and accepting of others. This fits in with our vision and values. We have loved moving into such a great neighborhood and have received tons of support and positive energy from our neighbors.” Some of the services offered by Dirty Girl Adventures “may surprise some people,” Selbee-Koch said. “Obviously, we take people on outdoor adventures ranging from hiking, kayaking, backpacking and some camping,” she said. “In addition to that, we offer special events like retreats that focus on self awareness and whole health. We love teaching self-care and compassion skills and supporting individuals in that way. In addition, we provide outdoor adventure to support and engage teams, from sports to corporate. Sharing time

with your team outside, unplugged, is a recharging experience.” Selbee-Koch said the inspiration for Dirty Girl Adventures “came from our love of sharing outdoor adventure and personal connection with others.” “Years ago,” she said, “Jennifer and I worked together in an alternative education setting where we taught students service learning and environmental education. After both of us changed positions, one of the things that we missed was sharing and teaching outdoor adventure and all of the positives that come with spending time in nature. “We have found that many people would like to spend more time engaged in outdoor activity but they aren’t sure where to go and they need support and encouragement to try it. Now, after fiveand-a-half years, we have people who independently adventure regularly. And the best part? They do it with the new friends they have found through Dirty Girl Adventures.” Selbee-Koch said Dirty Girl Adventures is all about getting people outdoors and introducing them to ways to experience wilderness for themselves. Safety is a key factor, she added, recommending that no one takes to a river or lake on their own without first going out with a reputable guide. Speaking of the Kansas River, Selbee-Koch said: “We always say, ‘the Mighty Kaw is our river home’ and we love it. It is beautiful, dangerous and alive. Every adventure on the river is different but wonderful.” She added that the Kaw is “a great resource for our city and state, both recreationally and as a source of drinking water. We love sharing the river with others and we love being part of the advocacy team of Friends of the Kaw.” For more information, visit www.dirtygirladventures.com.

City officials consider adding e-scooters By Savanna Maue Special to The Capital-Journal

In September 2017, the market for public transportation changed exponentially when e-scooters hit the streets — first in California, then in communities all over the world. Now local officials are exploring the possibility of bringing dockless scooter-sharing vendors to the capital city. “We are definitely pro-scooter,” said Bill Fiander, director of planning and development with the city of Topeka. “We were very proactive in trying to get them here, and do it the right way, and we’re definitely trying to increase our transportation choices, our microtransit, and to help everybody from low income to visitors to residents in using these as they’re intended, for first-mile/last-mile mobility.” Fiander said the city has had talks with Bird, Lime and Spin to bring a limited number of

scooters to Topeka. Riders unlock the scooter with their smartphone app, and after paying the $1 unlocking fee, most companies charge 15 cents per minute during use. While riders do not need a license, they must be 16 years or older and must obey all traffic laws, much like bicycle regulations. Helmets are required for riders under 18 years old. The scooters could be parked on any public property, minus the sidewalks on S. Kansas Avenue from 6th to 10th Street. Fiander calls this stretch of sidewalks the “walk your wheels” area, which is indicated by signage. The scooters are dockless, and early on in the companies’ developments they began contracting with individuals to charge the scooters. For Bird, these contracted employees are called “Bird hunters” or “chargers.” These contractors are approved by Bird, receive charging equipment, and bring the scooters home or

to secure locations to charge, all while being paid. Should the city reach a contract deal, companies could begin placing scooters around town within days. “It’s up to them where they put them,” Fiander said. “The market is going to kind of dictate where these get hubbed at, but very much like our bike share with Topeka Metro is kind of where I would expect to see them.” A Bird spokesperson, who asked not to be identified, said the scooters are now available in more than 100 communities around the world. “We announced this week that we will be testing monthly rentals as well, in San Francisco and Barcelona, but rolling out in other cities soon,” the spokesperson said in early May. “Also announced was our Bird Zero — the first customdesigned e-scooter for sharing built to last longer and be more durable.” These scooters will

not exceed 15 mph and cannot be driven in areas posted at 35 mph without bike lanes. While the city is hopeful of arranging this new transportation, Fiander said officials want to prevent some of the chaos other towns experienced when they were first released. This includes legalizing the scooters on public streets, and informing police personnel of the new transportation and rules. “We really had to do a lot of work internally,” Fiander said. “We just had to figure out how we were going to handle it, and how the rules were going to be enforced.” Fiander said the city wouldn’t be responsible for the scooters, except to make sure they don’t impede traffic. As far as benefiting the city, Fiander said Topeka would receive revenue from the scooters, but that “it’s not as much as if we would’ve formed an agreement a year ago.” “The industry standard is they propose 5

The city of Topeka is exploring the possibility of bringing dockless scooters, such as these by Bird, to the capital city. [SUBMITTED]

cents a ride. Five cents a ride, you know, it’s really hard to estimate, but if every scooter is ridden every day, for 365 days a year, we’re still looking at less than $20,000 per vendor, so it’s not huge,” he said. “Ten to 20 thousand is a good estimate for the

first year for many of these vendors.” If contracts are successfully negotiated, Fiander said the city likely would hold a ribbon cutting to announce the new transportation and make the public aware of the scooters.

Sunday, June 30, 2019  H5

NOTO From Page H1

NOTO Arts District and $210,000 for the NOTO Arts Center. “I’m tickled,” Underwood said of the progress made toward the fundraising goal. “Very satisfied. The fact that out of a $2.1 million campaign we’re less than $500,000 away from achieving our goal, I think that’s pretty good.” In December, the Joint Economic Development Organization granted $644,000 to support NOTO Arts District, assisting in efforts to add parking and establish Redbud Park. “Tom’s been just instrumental in getting us to the point that we are now,” NOTO board member Claudia Larkin said. “Not only do we have Redbud Park going, but we’re working on creating a breezeway between the arts center and the building to the south that allows for tables and chairs and lighting and music and places for people to sit and collect and gather. Part of the capital campaign is to help finish the basement in the Arts Center so we can create better classrooms down there. That capital campaign is robust in the number of things that it’s raising money to do.” The NOTO Arts Center is a multifunctional building that serves as the administrative offices for the NOTO Arts & Entertainment District, houses the Morris Art Gallery and includes

Thomas Underwood, NOTO executive director, says the original plan for the TIF district was too limited north of the river. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITALJOURNAL]

space for meetings and art classes. During the past year, the district has welcomed many new businesses, including Studio 62, Fire Me Up Ceramics and Fine Art Studios, Onyx Salon and Wellness Spa, Dirty Girl Adventures and Compass Point. “We are welcoming new businesses pretty much on a monthly basis down here,” Underwood said. “People still want to own their own business. People still want to have an impact on the neighborhood and the community.” Cody Foster, founder of AIM Strategies, which owns several buildings in downtown, said two of the finalists for Topeka’s “Shark Tank”-inspired Top Tank entrepreneurship competition planned to open in NOTO. He said NOTO and downtown have distinct

characteristics that are complementary. “On the Kansas Avenue side, you have the Capitol and you have 10-, 12-, 15-story buildings and towers. In NOTO, you definitely have more cool, old buildings that lend themselves to more of an arts district,” he said. “The buildings are so substantially different between the two spaces that utilizing them for the best use is probably pretty important.” As more businesses open in NOTO, talk is underway about expanding hours in the district beyond those that sprang forth from the First Fridays Artwalks. Underwood described it as a chicken-and-egg scenario with businesses hesitant to open if customers aren’t going to be there and customers not wanting to go to

NOTO to find it closed. “Do I wish that there was more continuity of hours? Sure. But I also understand that not all small businesses are the same,” Underwood said. “They have to determine what’s their capacity. Most of these places are mom-and-pop shops. If they’re going to stay open late on a Friday night, then guess who’s doing it? It’s the same people who are there all the rest of the time, too, or else they have to pay somebody, and they may not have that in their budget.” As more people become engaged with NOTO, expanded hours are likely to follow. “We’re not working toward a more vibrant arts and entertainment district to only be open a few hours here and there,” said Caleb Asher, board chair of NOTO Arts District and president and CEO of Sprout

Creative. “I think we’re all looking at how are we open for business throughout the week, attracting all kinds of different people, where you can come and join an art class or buy a piece of art but then also enjoy a craft beer or go to a different store.” As the owner of a business and property on Kansas Avenue south of the river, and chair of NOTO, Asher is invested in seeing growth on both sides of the river. “I want to connect the dots,” he said. “I want to see this corridor continue. I want to see people work together for the good of our greater community. … I think there are little wins and successes over the past year or two with just being part of meetings and committees where we’re saying, ‘Hey, let’s not forget what’s going on over here.’” Asher credits the

successes in NOTO today to the tenacity and vision of leaders who came before, including Anita Wolgast and John Hunter, who co-chaired a project to develop an arts district a decade ago. “That is one thing that I think is really important as we are moving full steam ahead is celebrate those moments and then also celebrate the businesses that have been in NOTO for years, well before it was ever this new vision of arts and entertainment,” Asher said. “As the current board chair, I don’t take for granted that there were a lot of people well before me that had the vision, and now I get to come in and go to a groundbreaking and hopefully a ribbon-cutting here later this year and celebrate when I know there was so much hard work and vision well before now.”

H6  Sunday, June 30, 2019 

The art of revitalization

A collage of artwork that can be found throughout the NOTO Arts & Entertainment District. [CHRIS NEAL/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Sunday, June 30, 2019  H7

H8  Sunday, June 30, 2019 

Sunday, June 30, 2019  I1


The current home of Wolfe’s Camera Shop, 627, 633 and 635 S. Kansas Ave., is on the market for $1.9 million. That pricetag gains prime Kansas Avenue property and 67,000-plus square feet of retail and office space. [PHOTOS BY THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

PURSUIT OF PROPERTY Limited number of downtown-area investment opportunities still exist

222 S.W. 7th is on the market for $1.5 million and is an excellent example of office space available off Kansas Avenue.

By Morgan Chilson Special to The Capital-Journal


he law of supply and demand has been in force in downtown Topeka for about eight years now. As buildings sold and development happened, prices went up and fewer buildings went on the market. But there still are opportunities for the investor with a large bank account or one willing to put some sweat equity into renovating buildings off Kansas Avenue that need a little more tender loving care.

“Once the redevelopment project was announced in 2012, things really started to happen,” said Vince Frye, president of Downtown Topeka Inc. “Within a year and a half or two years, we probably had 25 buildings purchased on Kansas Avenue alone. Those are still in the hands of the people that purchased them. There are very few buildings available at this point in time.” There are a few notable exceptions, though. The three buildings occupied by Wolfe’s Camera Shop, 627, 633 and 635 S. Kansas Ave., are on the market for $1.9

million, one of the larger asking prices in the downtown area. “You need deep pockets to play with that one,” said Mike Morse, partner at Kansas Commercial Real Estate Services Inc. “We’re talking about 60,000 square feet. That’s not just some mom-and-pop coming in and saying they want to buy a building in downtown Topeka — that’s major investment and major remodel.” Other buildings in the downtown area, but off of Kansas Avenue, sport high price tags. At 222 S.W. 7th

501 S.W. Jackson is an historic office building on the market for $1.4 million.

St. is a two-story building listed on the National Historic Register with a full basement situated near the capitol. For $1.5 million, a buyer would get about 23,000 square feet of office space. It’s currently home to and owned by the Bryan, Lykins, Hejtmanek & Fincher law firm. Another building, with a $1.1 million asking price, is 112 S.E. 8th, currently home to Gizmo Pictures and Juli’s Coffee and Bistro. This popular downtown building has been completely remodeled by owner Jeff Carson. At 501 S.W. Jackson, the

multi-story office building is available for a pricetag of $1.4 million. The gorgeous red-brick historic building dates to 1880, and offers just over 22,000 square feet of office space. For those without the ability to spend more than a million dollars on a downtown location, there are multiple buildings that would lend themselves to development. “There are greater opportunities off of the avenue,” Morse said. “You have to have the vision and See PROPERTIES, I6

Sun shining on Cyrus Early success of hotel helping build momentum for downtown Topeka By Phil Anderson phil.anderson@cjonline.com

Business has been brisk at the Cyrus Hotel since it opened in late January in downtown Topeka. Buoyed by a flurry of fivestar customer reviews on the TripAdvisor website, many out-of-town guests are finding the Cyrus to be their hotel of choice for overnight stays in the capital city. Local residents also are availing themselves of the Cyrus and its many offerings, whether for a company meeting, a staycation in one of the expertly appointed rooms or for dinner or a

drink at the hotel’s Weather Room restaurant. And, with the advent of summer, the hotel is welcoming even more guests as it offers live outdoor music concerts featuring local artists performing on its second-floor deck. All told, the Cyrus is bringing people back to downtown Topeka, back to “the avenue.” And that was one of its main intents when it was little more than a concept on a drawing board. The eight-story hotel is named after Cyrus K. Holliday, the man credited with founding Topeka in 1854. It is located at 920 S.

Kansas Ave. Managed by the Aparium Hotel Group, the Cyrus already has attracted some of the most famous visitors to the capital city so far in 2019. Acts who have been on stage at the Topeka Performing Arts Center — such as the Beach Boys, REO Speedwagon and Tim Allen — have chosen to stay at the hotel. Leaders from other countries doing business in Topeka also have selected the Cyrus, located a block away from the Statehouse. It seems nearly everyone who has stayed at the Cyrus has left with glowing

The sun rises over the Cyrus Hotel. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

reviews, said Topeka businessman Cody Foster, one of the hotel’s owners. “The reviews that we’ve got on the hotel have been spectacular,” Foster said on a recent Friday morning as he relaxed in the hotel’s large second-floor suite that

overlooks Kansas Avenue. “I think we went to number one on TripAdvisor today in terms of five-star reviews.” A key goal for the hotel was to offer “something different, something unique” See CYRUS, I10

I2  Sunday, June 30, 2019 

Progress on tap at Brew Bank Self-serve beer business targets end-of-summer opening date

By Linda Ditch Special to The Capital-Journal

The idea Dusty Snethen and Ryan Cavanaugh had for a self-serve beer tap place was so unique the Kansas government had to pass a law to make it happen. The concept also intrigued the business leaders who judged the first Topeka Top Tank competition. They awarded the duo $100,000 in 2018 to get the plan going. Today the finish line is in sight. Construction is happening at the 822 S.W. Kansas Ave. location, with the hope of opening day coming by the end of summer. The wide-open space will feature long tables for people to gather around, with a few cozy seating options for more intimate conversations. One wall will have 30 taps — 26 with Kansas beers and four of high-end wine normally not sold by the glass. The overall design will be urban eclectic, as if you mixed New York City with Kansas. “Our goal is, when you walk through the door, the first thing you think is, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before,’ ” Cavanaugh said. “Nothing about what we’re doing is like anything we’ve ever seen. We kept waiting for someone to do this because we wanted to go there, but nobody ever did it. So, we decided to do it ourselves.” How will the selfserve beer taps work?

Ryan Cavanaugh, left, and Dusty Snethen stand outside where construction is taking place for their new business, Brew Bank, at 822 S. Kansas Ave. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

When you come in, any of the staff, known as brew ambassadors, can sell you a card with whatever cash amount you wish to put on it, once they check your identification. Then you will take the card to the tap wall and select a beer to try. A screen will show you information about the brew, which glass is best to use, and the best way to pour it. You can take as little or as much as you want. If it’s not to your liking, just rinse your glass and pick another one. The beer and wine are sold by the ounce.

The new law allowing self-serve beer mandated every card shuts off after 32 ounces has been purchased, and it will also shut off when you run out of money. The staff can restart the card, but only after they assess you’re not inebriated. The beers will come from brewers in Topeka, Lawrence and around the state. At times there will be state-to-state beer competitions with some of the taps featuring out-of-state brews, allowing patrons to vote for their favorites. “Kansas brewers are

really doing great things with beer now," Snethen said. "They’re catching up with California and Colorado. So, we want to celebrate that and show that off." A stage at one end will have a giant screen showing old movies. Live performances will also take place featuring jazz and acoustic music, as well as comedy and other spoken-word acts. “The whole idea is about community,” Snethen said. “We want a place where people become friends. Our tables are set up that way. Our staff members

are brew ambassadors and they help everybody. We really are into community and celebrating what the community is doing, so a lot of community involvement is what we want.” Food will be sold to go with the beverages. Pedro Concepcion, the former owner of Boca Café, created the menu with his brother, Javier. It features flatbread pizzas and Brew Boards with a cheese ball surrounded by meats and cheeses from different world regions. Staff can make suggestions about beers to match the food

selections. Also on the menu will be salads and other healthy options, all freshly prepared every day. Even though the Brew Bank is a beer lover’s paradise, it will also be a welcoming place for kids. The plan is to do kids karaoke on Saturdays with foods such as a grilled-cheese special. Root beer will also be made in-house and served free to kids and designated drivers. Customers will also be able to order sodas and locally roasted coffee. Kendal Construction is doing the work on the building. The pace is slow because, when something historical is uncovered, there’s a process to go through before they can proceed. However, the slow pace hasn’t dampened Cavanaugh and Snethen’s enthusiasm for the project. “It’s exciting to know that not only did we create this idea, but we are the two people who own it,” Cavanaugh said. “We are going to be here all the time. This is our thing. This is a passion for us.” Snethen added: “We’re not businessmen. We’re a couple of beer guys. But we put a business plan together, and some very astute business guys looked at it and said it could be good for Topeka and downtown. If you like to try new things, we’re going to be the place for you. If you like to make friends, this will be the perfect place for you.”

Sunday, June 30, 2019  I3

Downtown businesses on top of things with outside decks By Linda Ditch Special to The Capital-Journal

Creating an outdoor entertainment space has been a trend in home design for a number of years. These decks and patios often feature comfortable seating, dining space and kitchens with built-in grills. In essence, the area becomes an additional “room” for the house. Businesses are also following suit, especially in Topeka’s downtown. With beautiful views opening up along Kansas Avenue since the revitalization efforts began, many companies have discovered the benefits of having an outdoor rooftop deck or patio. The space can be used both for employees to enjoy and as places to host client meetings and events. Vince Frye, president and CEO of Downtown Topeka, Inc., noted the Greater Topeka Partnership plans to build an entertainment deck on the roof of their offices at 719 S. Kansas as a place to host future activities. “In our new central location, we have a great view of Kansas Avenue, the Capitol and miles in all directions,” Frye said. “We are proud of our community and want to share the view and all the revitalization that is happening with as many people as possible.” A rooftop terrace was also a key design component to the new Cyrus Hotel. General manager Jeffrey Pavone pointed out the terrace is the only elevated

The deck on the Cyrus Hotel can be configured for a variety of gatherings. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Vince Frye, president and CEO of Downtown Topeka Inc., stands on the roof of their offices at 719 S. Kansas. The Greater Topeka Partnership plans to build an entertainment deck on the roof as a place to host future activities. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

outdoor public deck in downtown, with views of Kansas Avenue and the surrounding area. The space is attached to the Ad Astra master suite deck, and both can be rented for events. However, the hotel is also utilizing the space for public events such as the recent Yoga on the Terrace, which had participants both from Topeka and hotel guests. Another one is scheduled for July 15. “From the terrace, you can see all the way up into the Topeka landscape, complementing the cityscape with a rural feel,” Pavone said via email. “The terrace is also perfect for parade watching as it overlooks sprawling Kansas Avenue. Lastly, guests can see the Ad Astra atop the state Capitol building!” Clayton Wealth Partners had decks

installed on two downtown buildings — one on their office at 716 S. Kansas Ave., as well as third-floor and rooftop decks at the newly built 720 S. Kansas Ave. residential building, which was the previous location for HHB BBQ before it was destroyed by a fire in 2015. “We have a thirdfloor deck on the back side of the building,” co-founder Randy Clayton said of the office building. “Since this is Kansas, it is rarely used during the winter or summer months — too cold or too hot. Employees use the deck for lunch, or simply to take a break outside to see the sun and breathe the air. There really are not any wonderful views unless you love the Capitol Federal parking lot. When we renovated the building in 2008, we added the deck, which

required special supports because you can’t simply lay a deck on a vinyl roof.” The residential building’s decks were easier to install because it was new construction. These areas are used by the third-floor tenant, complete with a barbecue grill and seating. However, Clayton said he feels a more unique feature to the building can be found on the front facade. The second- and thirdfloor apartments have large French doors facing Kansas Avenue. They completely open inward, turning the living rooms into balcony-type areas open to the outside. Architect One often features photos of their deck on social media, highlighting employees and family members relaxing at the end of the day or watching a

Clayton Wealth Partners have this deck on the back of their offices at 716 S. Kansas. [SUBMITTED]

parade from their Kansas Avenue vantage point. Known as the “outdoor office,” its design required the removal of a false wall to open up the view. “This is a growing trend for the use of rooftops in cities across the country,” Frye said. “Open spaces that allow for public gatherings are of great interest to businesses. A deck can be used to view the many events and parades downtown. Some decks will include barbecue grills, seating, outdoor kitchens and more. Many include

gardens with flowers and vegetables.” “It was important for Cyrus Hotel to include an outdoor space like the terrace when building the hotel so that people could enjoy the landscape of the ever-changing and growing downtown area,” Pavone said. “Personally, I especially love living downtown because Topeka makes me feel like I’m at home. This summer, we expect people will take advantage of our terrace because more businesses have opened in the last year.”

I4  Sunday, June 30, 2019 

Downtown leaders take steps to increase culinary tourism By Savanna Maue Special to The Capital-Journal

When Greg Fox in 2007 opened RowHouse Restaurant, an upscale establishment focusing on American-fusion cuisine in downtown Topeka, he was the only one working on such a concept. Twelve years later, Fox has more competition, but he is grateful for it. “You have to work harder for the dollars and now there’s someone running right behind you,” Fox said. “Before you were kind of running on your own and we stayed out far ahead, but now we’re really pushing our limits creatively with ideas and blossoming new ways to entertain people, bring people back, keep our menus the most current, the most unusual and the most authentic RowHouse it’s always been. We’re working very hard to stay ahead of the crowd.” A thriving downtown scene was a vision seen by few in the early 2000s, but significant steps in the right direction have propelled Topeka into the way of progress. The more restaurants open downtown, the more people are drawn to the area, Field of Greens owner Chris Schultz said, but it’s not a process that comes free of risk. “We’re a very cautious community. We like to make sure we’re making the safe decision, and that’s awesome,” Schultz said. “But if you want to make big returns you’ve got to be willing

Chris Schultz, left, stands with Diane Schultz in their downtown business, Field of Greens. The restaurant opened in 2002 and focuses on healthy eating. [PHOTOS BY THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

to take some risks. ... You’ve got several different development groups working in the downtown area, and I think they communicate very well. We just have to make sure when it comes to city agencies, the developers and the general public, we all have to come together. I think that’s why we’re seeing the success we are right now.” Schultz and his family opened Field of Greens in 2002, a few blocks south of RowHouse, at 909 S. Kansas Avenue.

It’s a popular lunch destination, known for its salad bar and nobake chocolate oatmeal cookies. “I’ll tell you the biggest indicator is what downtown used to look like after 5 p.m. But now you can’t get parking anytime. It’s full all the time,” Schultz said. “I would’ve laughed at you in 2002 if you would’ve told me there would be $20 a night valet parking across the street from me.” The valet parking is conjoined with the Cyrus

Hotel, one of the newest buildings to downtown Topeka’s skyline, which brought with it a fine dining restaurant, The Weather Room, as well as a new challenge: entertaining tourists who stay in the hotel. While restaurant owners agree their food is a draw to bring tourists downtown, Kurt Young, executive director of the Topeka Lodging Association and construction chairman of the forthcoming Evergy Plaza, believes an attraction is what’s

needed to put Topeka on the map as a destination city, and further benefit local restaurant owners. “Fine dining in and of itself does not necessarily create travel and tourism,” Young said. “Having said that, fine dining is very important once you have established your community and your city as a destination.” To do that, Young is a leader for the Evergy Plaza project, a free gathering space along the 600 block of S. Kansas Avenue. The

plaza is planned to offer more than 200 days worth of event programming, a 50-foot performance stage, 30-foot digital screen, and dry dock water feature that can be converted into an ice rink in the winter months. Plazas have been shown to increase tourism in communities across the country, Young said, and if it’s a place locals like to hang out, it will attract tourists as well. “You’ll see more restaurants moving

Sunday, June 30, 2019  I5

Chef Luis Guillen showcases a specialty menu item, the chicken parmigiana over linguini, a homemade breaded chicken breast cooked tenderly and served in a savory tomato sauce with linguini noodles.

into downtown once the plaza is created,” Young said. "Rapid City, South Dakota, built a plaza about 11 years ago. Before they built their plaza they had the same retail occupancy problem on their main street that we have. Within two to three years since Rapid City built their plaza they were not only 100 percent occupied but they had a waiting list of people wanting floor space on their main street.” Evergy Plaza is planned to open in March 2020. Visit Topeka is also taking an early interest in growing the culinary and hospitality scene in Topeka, and for the first time this year donated the proceeds of its annual Restaurant Week to funding scholarships for students in a hospitality, tourism, culinary arts or hotel management programs that are interning or working in Topeka. “As we have more restaurants coming to Topeka, we need to make sure we have the people they need to hire to be a successful business," said Rosa

Cavazos, director of events for the Greater Topeka Partnership and one of the lead organizers of Restaurant Week. “If we can help in anyway, we want to do our part to help everyone succeed.” Cavazos said there has been a growing interest in the event management field, with tourism impacting more than 4,877 jobs and $338 million dollars in total economic impact in Shawnee County. For new restaurant owners like Adam VanDonge of The White Linen, 112 S.W. 6th Ave., he echoed Cavazos’ comment, and said his business has seen continual growth since opening December 2017. “I think the city can support these restaurants because they’re all unique in their own special way,” he said. “What we do here is different from RowHouse, it’s different from The Weather Room, what we do is different than Chez Yasu. "I personally think we’re not in a league of our own, but what we’re doing no one else in Topeka does.”

Chef Luis Guillen sits at his bar inside Luis’ Place, 435 S. Kansas Ave.

Others have taken a more exclusive approach, like longtime restaurateur Luis Guillen, who has been in the business for almost two decades. Guillen owned New City Cafe, but after its closure turned to a much smaller venue, Luis’ Place, 435 S. Kansas Ave., which is exclusively open on Fridays for lunch and dinner service. Guillen offers Medeterranian-fusion cuisine. Like White Linen and RowHouse, Guillen doesn’t keep the same menu for long. All three restaurants change their menu on a weekly or monthly basis to keep customers coming back. “We’re here to push the palates of Topeka,” VanDonge said. “Every

Greg Fox stands in the RowHouse Restaurant garden at 515 S.W. Van Buren St. Fox opened the restaurant in 2007, and offers upscale American-fusion dishes.

month we do something fun and unique. We try

to offer something to make Topekans come

out of their comfort zone a little bit.”

I6  Sunday, June 30, 2019 

C-J now ‘right in the middle of everything’ Newspaper settling into new digs in Kansan Towers By Linda Ditch Special to The Capital-Journal

After moving from a building on S.E. Jefferson it called home for 55 years, The Topeka Capital-Journal has settled into its new space in the Kansan Towers. A wide-open newsroom looks out over Kansas Avenue and 9th Street, with a view of the state Capitol and all the activity happening in downtown. “We’ve always felt like we were a part of downtown, but I don’t think we realized the difference between Jefferson Street and Kansas Avenue until we got here,” publisher Stephen Wade said. “The differences are dramatic. You are literally right in the middle of everything. It’s a thrill to look out


understanding that you’re not going to get immediate returns on those investments. We still have some vacancies on Kansas Avenue — until we fill those up, you’re not going to get the spillover.” But some investors have been looking at those off-avenue buildings for potential residential options, he said. They’re willing to consider a loft on the

the window and see the state Capitol every morning. Before, you kind of saw the top of the dome, but now it’s right there. And it’s an easy half a block walk to four different places for lunch. In a block and a half, I can double that number.” Wade noted a number of places for the paper’s new location around the city were considered. However, he felt strongly the paper should be in downtown, which he sees as the center of the community, as a way to stay better connected. “I joke that, when I was a high school senior here, if you were in downtown after five o’clock, you were probably up to no good. There was just no reason to be downtown unless you were coming down for a parade on a Saturday morning,” Wade said. “Now, you have a sense of life

and vibrancy. I would argue that downtown provides a sense of community that you can’t get in the suburbs and on the fringes in strip malls. We all need them. There’s a purpose for retail districts and we’re very fortunate to have Wanamaker, Fairlawn and Gage. But you pass people when you walk downtown. You get to know people when you walk downtown.” The space is designed with what Wade called an open-air concept. The only office is his, and it has large picture windows looking out over the newsroom and Kansas Avenue. All the other work spaces are open to each other to facilitate a sense of community in the newsroom. However, there are six different spaces where staff can go for a quiet conversation, to make a phone call or meet with a source or client.

In true modern-day style, there is also a game room with video games and tables. Staff can go there to get away from their desk for lunch, or to just take a break and clear their head. “We spend as much time with our work family as we do our athome family, so there’s no reason it shouldn’t be fun,” Wade said. “I want

folks to be able to enjoy it while they’re here and be productive at the same time.” Visitors can get to the second-floor space via elevators on the main floor. Work will soon be completed to open up the atrium, so visitors will walk off the elevators and look out over the large chandelier down to the first floor, as guests of the former

hotel once did decades ago. “We belong to Topeka, and Topeka is a community that is very exciting right now,” said Wade, who also lives downtown. “The excitement that happens in Topeka generates excitement in this building, too. It allows us to tell some really good stories and share in the excitement in the community.”

second floor and office space on the first floor. Frye said DTI continues to see demand for residential, and he pointed to the successful lofts developed by Michael Wilson and partners at 101 N. Kansas Ave. That building was affected by a recent fire that destroyed its neighbor to the north. “People want lofts,” Frye said, adding that most of the lofts downtown are from people who bought a building and created retail on the first floor and an upstairs loft. Jim Klausman, one of the top investors in

the downtown area, is still holding on to the many buildings he owns downtown. The formerly vacant building at 822-824 S. Kansas Ave. is being renovated at a cost of around $1 million to house the new Brew Bank. “We’re redoing that building from the exterior, bringing it back to the standards from when it was first built, to completely taking care of the second floor, which has been vacant for probably 50 or 60 years,” he said. The second floor will be office space. Klausman owns some

properties off the main avenue, and he said it’s a natural progression to see development begin to happen off the main avenue. “It’s not going to happen overnight, just as the downtown didn’t happen overnight,” Klausman said. “The momentum’s there, and they’ll continue to build out. That creates a lot of opportunities.” Those opportunities are many, but may be well-disguised as renovation projects and warehouses. The industrial part of the downtown area has

several buildings for sale, including commercial buildings at 500 S.W. Harrison, on the market for $150,000, and 100 N.E. Jefferson, priced at $359,500. For Morse, who has been a downtown cheerleader for years, the vibrancy and excitement created as buildings are renovated and businesses commit to the downtown area is still a thrill. He pointed to the renovations done at 1st and Kansas Avenue by Wilson and Earl Kemper, Andrea Engstrom and Josiah

Engstrom. Kemper and the Engstroms operate ActionCOACH Business Coaching, Bajillion Agency and MotoVike Films as part of Premier Advisory Group. The potential offered by the new downtown plaza creates even more momentum. “Every one of these that we continue to fill up creates more vibrancy and activity,” he said. “Each success builds upon the other, and we build more confidence. The confidence grows and when that happens, other investors are willing to come.”

Stephen Wade, publisher of The Topeka CapitalJournal, right, gives members of the editorial board a tour of the newspaper’s new offices at 100 S.E. 9th St. [CHRIS NEAL/ THE CAPITALJOURNAL]

Sunday, June 30, 2019  I7

915 S. Kansas Ave, 705 S. Kansas Ave., 920 S. Kansas Ave., 112 S.W. 7th St., 712 S. Kansas Ave., 112 S.W. 7th St., 116 S.E. 7th St., 115 S.E. 6th St., 427-429 S. Kansas Ave., 424 S. Kansas Ave., 114 S.W. 8th Ave, 116 S.E. 8th Ave., 108 S.W. 8th Ave., 830 S. Kansas Ave., 906 S. Kansas Ave., 920 S. Kansas Ave., 915 S. Kansas Ave., 901 S. Kansas Ave., 724 S. Kansas Ave., 635 S. Kansas Ave., 801 S. Kansas Ave., 911 S. Kansas Ave., 820 S. Kansas Ave., 712 S. Kansas Ave., 909 S. Kansas Ave., 727-725 S. Kansas Ave., 110 S.E. 8th Ave., 110 S.E. 8th Ave., 701 S. Kansas Ave., S.W. 8th and Van Buren. ANSWERS:


This montage features parts of 30 downtown buildings. How many can you identify? Addresses of the 30 buildings shown here are listed below.

Can you identify all 30 downtown buildings in this Thad Allton illustration?

BUILDINGS BUILDING OF I8  Sunday, June 30, 2019 

Sunday, June 30, 2019  I9

I10  Sunday, June 30, 2019 

CYRUS From Page I1

and something that has a different feel from what a person might have found at other hotels in Topeka, Foster said. “I’ve heard that a lot, which I think is cool,” Foster said. “People staying here, saying ‘I feel like I’m in a really big city— it’s what I would expect there.’ So we’ve gotten a lot of really good feedback so far.” Foster, who is the founder and owner of AIM Strategies LLC, which developed the Cyrus, said he has been pleased with the hotel’s reception, both from the Topeka community and those who come to stay. One of the biggest keys of the hotel’s early success has been the individualized, customer-focused service the Cyrus Hotel offers its guests. The hotel is but one of several downtown projects that Foster has undertaken. Already, Foster has been instrumental in bringing the Pennant restaurant to downtown Topeka. The Pennant is at 915 S. Kansas Ave., directly west across Kansas Avenue from the Cyrus. Iron Rail Brewing, another restaurant, opened late in 2018 at 705 S. Kansas Ave. While both the Pennant and the Iron Rail were major undertakings, they paled in comparison to the Cyrus project. Foster said he had planned to take a break and catch his breath after the $25 million hotel was completed earlier this year.

But four months after it opened, he seemed to be chomping at the bit to get going on some other projects aimed at revitalizing downtown Topeka. Foster acknowledged the restaurants and the hotel have helped pump new vitality into downtown Topeka. At the same time, he acknowledged the work was just getting started. “We’re in the first or second inning of a nineinning game,” he said. He said he sees downtown Topeka at least “one more big anchortype project” away from really taking off. He said he wasn’t sure what that next project might be — possibly a youth sports complex, a convention center and hotel, a multipurpose stadium, development of the water tower area or work along the Kansas Riverfront. In the meantime, Foster said downtown “probably needs a few more restaurants .... I think pizza’s one option that doesn’t exist a ton down here. Probably a few other things.” Foster said ironically, “we’re getting a lot of people” reaching out to inquire about space for retail stores like boutique shops, something that may have seemed like a stretch a few years ago. “When you start to see the traffic patterns that you’re seeing ...,” Foster said, “it makes a pretty good business case for bringing in some retail stores down here now.” He added that he expected to see some of the vacant buildings along Kansas Avenue begin to fill in with businesses “in the next year or two.”

Though he is a major force in the ongoing remaking of downtown Topeka, Foster is quick to say he is even more sold on the idea of a strong Topeka. He said he is hopeful downtown momentum will carry over to other parts of the city. He said he foresees downtown development stretching from the central business district across the Kansas River to the North Topeka Arts District. New developments already in place, like the Cyrus, are helping pave the way for more revitalization. In its early months, the Cyrus made a few adjustments on the fly, finding what worked and what tweaks needed to be made to succeed in the Topeka market. The Cyrus had been opened only a few weeks when room rates were dropped about $10 to $15 per night, making the prices more in line with other hotels in Topeka. The goal was to get more occupancy in the hotel, and the move succeeded. Jeff Pavone, general manager of the Cyrus, said the hotel’s first few months have gone well, particularly for a brand new enterprise. “The first thee or four months have been very busy,” Pavone said. “We had a great opening, and it’s been very smooth.” Pavone was extremely pleased with customer reviews that helped the hotel reach the top of the TripAdvisor online travel site, used by many people when they are selecting places to stay. A recent Google review also offered glowing comments. “It was a wonderful

From left, Jeff Pavone, Cody Foster and Thad Halstead have seen the Cyrus Hotel get off to a successful start since its opening in January 2019 at 920 S. Kansas Ave. [THAD ALLTON/ THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

experience!” one customer wrote on Google reviews. “The staff was exceptional in every way. Our room was spacious and beautifully decorated with a great view. The bar was a perfect place for an evening cocktail. It was also nice to walk around downtown. Such a fabulous stay!!!” The hotel has intentional, nuanced references to Topeka’s history at nearly every turn. Those who stay there find it to be a oneof-a-kind experience and a far cry from the cookie-cutter hotels that look virtually the same in Topeka as they do in Toledo. The Cyrus opening occurred in the cold of winter. Now that the weather is warming up, the occupancy rate is going higher, as well. Yet with all of its pleasing architecture

and design features, what sets the Cyrus apart the most is the people who work there, Pavone said. Of the 102 “team members” employed at the hotel, about 95 percent have been with the Cyrus since it opened. Pavone attributed the unusually high retention rate to employees who understood the Cyrus vision, who deliver on customer-service goals, and who themselves are rewarded with various perks for their commitment to the hotel and its mission. Thad Halstead, marketing director for AIM Strategies, said he has been watching not only the transformation of downtown Topeka in recent years but the change in the mindset of Topeka-area residents. When the Pennant restaurant was in the planning stages, Halstead

said, a frequently heard question was “why are you doing this?” The Pennant opened to great success and was followed a few months later by the the Iron Rail, which also is attracting large numbers of diners. In a matter of months, Halstead said, the questions turned from “why?” to “what’s next?” The forward movement of downtown, spurred on by the Cyrus and other projects, has helped the city expand its vision of what it can become, Halstead said. “I think that’s where downtown can help the city grow as a whole,” Halstead said, “when we start saying ‘and’ instead of ‘or.’ We can have a great downtown and a great Wanamaker and a great southeast part of the town. We don’t have to trade one for the other.”

Sunday, June 30, 2019  J1


John Dicus, CEO of Capitol Federal, played an important role in the revitalization of downtown Topeka by investing $20 million in a renovation of the headquarters and offering the first private commitment to the streetscape project. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Dicus a catalyst for change Capitol Federal CEO drives downtown Topeka improvements through financial commitments, influence

By Sherman Smith sherman.smith@cjonline.com


ohn Dicus can look out his office window and see the difference he made in downtown Topeka. The avenue’s wide sidewalks, statues, pocket parks, kid spaces, artwork, arches, plants, restaurants, hotel and forthcoming event plaza didn’t exist seven years ago when Dicus, the CEO of Capitol Federal, invested $20 million in the renovation of the bank headquarters and committed the first private funds to revitalization efforts.

“I think the opportunity — whether it’s additional people living downtown, whether it’s restaurants, bars, entertainment activities, shops that come down here — when all of a sudden you start bringing that many people into the downtown, I think the other things will follow that serve those people while they’re down here.” — JOHN DICUS

The movers and shakers behind more recent downtown improvements credit the decision by Dicus to keep the headquarters in the capital city as a catalyst for subsequent improvements. “For many years,” Dicus said, “there have been many strategic initiatives, many

projects put on paper, to do things on Kansas Avenue to change it. There’s been some that have started and stopped or made minor changes, but I think all of a sudden when you have one business put the amount of money that we did into the renovation, and have

basically a new building with a new look down here, I think maybe it gave people the hope that others can do this.” The Capitol Federal building was stripped to its concrete bones and transfixed into a sparkling structure that changed

people’s minds about the prospects for downtown Topeka. Cody Foster, the Advisors Excel owner whose business initiatives include the Cyrus Hotel, The Pennant and Iron Rail Brewing, said downtown Topeka didn’t look the part before the Capitol Federal makeover. “To make that a state-ofthe-art building,” Foster said, “it just changed the landscape down there.” The headquarters investment coincided with fresh momentum from a wide See DICUS, J7

GTP chief: Perception of city changing from ‘ick’ to slick Pivarnik continues to focus on positivity as well as quality of place and life issues By Brent Maycock bmaycock@cjonline.com

Whenever he hears one of his constituents proclaiming Topeka is performing in terms of creating economic prosperity, Matt Pivarnik can’t help but break into a beaming smile. For starters, there’s a certain sense of satisfaction for the president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Partnership. That’s the perception Pivarnik has sought since his arrival in Topeka threeplus years ago as president of the Topeka Chamber of Commerce and GO Topeka. But there’s more to it for Pivarnik. There also is satisfaction in the reality that Pivarnik feels Topeka is nowhere close to meeting the performance level he truly believes possible. And it all goes back to his “Orming Process.”

“There’s Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing,” Pivarnik says of the process put forth by the GTP. “Where I would say we are right now is somewhere between Storming and Norming. I believe the community believes that we are actually performing, and we are. But we’ll perform much better once we get through this four-phase process.” Phase one of the process began in 2016 when Pivarnik came to Topeka from Tulsa where he had served as CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce. At that point the process of forming the Greater Topeka Partnership began, and in January 2018 the GTP became a reality. The GTP is an umbrella agency that brought together a number of entities designed to enhance

and promote economic development and quality of life in Topeka. In addition to the Topeka Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Topeka Inc., GO Topeka and Visit Topeka, the GTP also includes 712 Innovations, Entrepreneurial and Minority Business Development (a GO Topeka program), Heartland Visioning, Forge and Momentum 2022, the latter the community’s holistic economic developmentfocused strategic plan. Phase two and three, the storming and norming, have pretty much gone hand in hand since the forming of GTP. Instead of having each entity operating individually, and in many cases duplicating efforts, the GTP is designed to make the efforts collaborative and more efficient. It’s not necessarily getting

When Matt Pivarnik first arrived in Topeka in January 2016 to take over as president and CEO of the Topeka Chamber of Commerce and GO Topeka, he says there “was almost an ick factor” in how outsiders perceived the capital city. Now Pivarnik, as president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Partnership, senses “a positive vibe” among outsiders and believes many feel as though “something cool is happening.” [2016 FILE PHOTOGRAPH/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

everyone on the same page — most were already — it’s more making sure the message and game plan is consistent across the board. “If we’re going to compete with the rest of the world, we’re going to have to compete together and not compete separately,” Pivarnik said. “They were

all doing a good job, but they were all doing it in silos. A lot of times they were sending the same message. Each have their own individual lane they swim in, but at the same time everybody ties back to creating economic prosperity in Topeka. No See PIVARNIK, J6

J2  Sunday, June 30, 2019 



Hazim wants community pride to keep rising By Brianna Childers bchilders@cjonline.com

Topeka Police Department Sgt. Cody Burger is the second youngest police sergeant at TPD. He is a member of Topeka Forge and is a part of the downtown NOTO Momentum 2022 work group. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Sgt. Burger wants to help change Topeka’s perception By Brianna Childers bchilders@cjonline.com

Topeka police Sgt. Cody Burger figured if he was going to put roots down in Topeka, he had an obligation as a citizen to make the city the best place it can be. Burger joined the downtown NOTO Momentum 2022 work group in January 2018, and that led to him getting involved in Topeka Forge. He is a member of the Forge Board of Directors as well as co-chair of the leadership team. “There are a lot of people in this community who are willing to help you if you have good ideas and you are willing to do positive stuff for the community,” Burger said. “That’s a lot of the

reason I became part of it, to make it a good place to live.” Burger also wanted to get involved to represent the police department and get people exposed to what the police do in Topeka. Burger joined TPD in 2008 and became sergeant in August 2018, making him the second youngest sergeant at TPD. Burger also spearheaded the police department’s See Topeka program, a security camera registry for officers to use to help solve area crimes. Since beginning his career with TPD, Burger said he feels a lot more excitement in Topeka. “There’s a lot more positive aura around the downtown (and) NOTO

area,” Burger said. “Looking downtown and (at) NOTO, you see the businesses opening up — that wasn’t like that 10 years ago when I started. When I would come out of the station, I would avoid going downtown because the street would kind of be busy but there wasn’t much there. Now we go down Kansas because we like going down Kansas and it’s a nice place to see.” Burger said he wants to see Topeka become a place that people are proud of. “It’s all about changing perception, but it’s also about making sure we are staying at the forefront of these initiatives and bringing new things to Topeka so that it becomes exciting,” Burger said.

When the city of Topeka and the Greater Topeka Partnership reached out to SJ Hazim, he was just “a regular person in the community just trying to do things,” Hazim said. Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of GTP, reached out to Hazim and called him a social media influencer. Monique Glaude, city of Topeka director of community engagement, helped him get involved with Momentum 2022. Now Hazim is playing a role in Topeka by organizing events, such as the 65th Anniversary Brown v. Board celebration, and founding events like Project Forward, a volunteer and mentorship organization. “I just want (people) to know if I was able to do it, anyone can do it,” Hazim said. “It’s just about focusing and figuring out what your passion is.” Hazim, who has lived in Topeka since he was 5 years old, said he never has seen the city in a better place than it is right now. He gives credit to Topeka’s leadership for creating community pride and he proudly participates by wearing local Topeka shirts such as the Topeka flag T-shirt. “I really think this whole Momentum 2022

SJ Hazim is the founder of Project Foward, a volunteer and mentorship organization, and a member of the Momentum 2022 work group. [PHIL ANDERSON/THE CAPITALJOURNAL]

and everything has got everybody looking like, ‘Hey, what can I do so my kids want to live here?’” Hazim said. Hazim said he is excited to see where Topeka can go and it makes him want to “hop all the way in and do what I can do with what I can do.” He wants to help challenge people in the community because “sometimes people only rise up to the occasion when they are

challenged,” Hazim said. Hazim said he is happy with where downtown is going and in the next few years would like to see more development on the east side of Topeka, as well as more diversity on the boards. “There’s a lot of boards that have the same people on them and boards don’t reflect what our community really looks like,” Hazim said. “That’s one of my hopes that that continues to change.”



Nicole Bloomquist and Bryce Liedtke are founding members of Topeka Youth Commission. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

Liedtke, Bloomquist want city NOTO’s Ogle encourages more to be destination spot for youth community involvement Staci Dawn Ogle is program coordinator for the NOTO Arts District Board. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

By Brianna Childers

By Brianna Childers bchilders@cjonline.com

When Staci Dawn Ogle entered the art scene in 2010, she felt the community didn’t have a lot of pride in Topeka. “There was such a negative connotation that went with talking about Topeka,” Ogle said. “As I started to become more involved in things in the community and I used my art as a way to get involved, I started to realize there was a lot of people in our community that wanted to see positive change and that they were also driven to try to make that happen.” She became a part of NOTO in 2012, and a few years ago she was invited to be a part of the NOTO Arts District Board.

As board program coordinator, Ogle runs the Morris Gallery at the NOTO Arts Center as well as scheduling programming for classes, field trips and tours. Ogle also co-owns 39 West Gallery, 909 N. Kansas. Ogle said she enjoys the vibe and energy NOTO radiates. “It’s just such an eclectic group of people in the district down here and, you know, it’s changed so much throughout the years and it always brings a new type of community,” Ogle said. “I really want to be able to show other people how to be a part of that and how you could come down here and, even if you don’t relate to art, there’s so many things you could relate to.”

Ogle said while NOTO has gone through growing pains — business used to come in waves — there have been many positive things happening because of the arts district. NOTO is headed in a good direction, Ogle said. She wants to see the district continue to grow and for youths to visit the area more. “I’d love to continue to see more community involvement and not just in NOTO but just in general,” Ogle said. “Our community is great as it is already with the volunteer time that we do, but there’s so much more to that that we could do. We could grow so much quicker if we had that help from the people in the community who wanted to get involved.”


About a year ago, Nicole Bloomquist and Bryce Liedtke were set on leaving Topeka after graduation and never coming back. Things changed when Bloomquist and Liedtke became founding members of Topeka Youth Commission, an organization that works to provide a voice for youths in decision- and policy-making. “I wanted to get out of this city, go to Washburn just because my dad works there and then get on over to KC,” said Liedtke, a senior at Shawnee Heights High School. “But now being involved in all of this and being able to see the behind the scenes, and seeing that adults want to hear us and they want

youths to stay, that really changed it for me.” Liedtke hopes to major in pre-medicine at Washburn, go to medical school and return to Topeka as soon as he can. Bloomquist, a 2019 graduate of Shawnee Heights, will attend Wichita State University in the fall and plans to get her degree in pre-law, but she is considering returning to Topeka once she has her degree. Liedtke and Bloomquist said they think youth involvement has increased dramatically in the past few years. One thing Topeka Youth Commission is working on creating is a “grub crawl,” which will allow youths to visit different restaurants downtown in an effort to get engaged and to show what downtown has to offer.

“It seems like everyone is ready, everyone is excited,” Bloomquist said. “It seems like Topeka is finally ready to be thriving.” Bloomquist said she doesn’t want Topeka to be a backup destination or gathering place for people. “I want youth to hang out and not just go to KC or Lawrence all the time,” she said. Liedtke said he hopes Topeka can create an inviting atmosphere that entices people to stay. “I know that’s a lot harder than just making people stay,” Liedtke said. “There’s a lot of steps that need to be taken, there’s a lot of different aspects that you have to look at, so its definitely a very complex issue, but I would like to see people wanting to stay in Topeka instead of wanting to leave.”

Sunday, June 30, 2019  J3

Mayor touts Bloomberg Harvard influence De La Isla credits initiative for helping to reshape perspectives, clarify Momentum 2022 campaign By Tim Hrenchir tim.hrenchir@cjonline.com

Discussions about economic development in Topeka used to focus on how to bring it bigger and better companies, says Mayor Michelle De La Isla. Now, she said, that conversation has come to focus instead on improving access to opportunity and happiness for all Topekans while making this city a place to which people can feel comfortable coming. The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Institute deserves much of the credit for that transformation, De La Isla said. While people here had begun to change their way of thinking about economic development before Bloomberg, the leadership initiative “really gave legs” to that shift in perspectives, she said. De La Isla, who won election in November 2017 as Topeka’s mayor, became one of 40 mayors from around the world chosen to take part free of charge in the leadership initiative, an intensive one-year program founded by billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg realized after being elected as mayor of New York City that there was no school for mayors, so he teamed up with Harvard to create an intensive program that educates mayors on how to improve their cities. De La Isla spent three

Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla credits her involvement with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Institute for helping community leaders focus on making Topeka an attractive place to live and visit through improved access to opportunities. [THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

days in New York City networking with other mayors while learning about the dynamics of leadership, challenges facing local governments and best practices being used in other communities. Two Topeka city employees then received four days of Harvard training through Bloomberg. Those were city manager Brent Trout and Nickie Lee, who was then the city’s director of financial services. Lee subsequently left to become assistant city

administrator for the city of Smithville, Mo. Next, De La Isla and Trout got to pick eight Topekans to take part in a Bloomberg program focusing on crossboundary collaboration, which involves helping a community’s different populations, communities and groups to better understand each other and team up to work for the benefit of all. They chose as participants City Councilman Mike Padilla; Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater

Topeka Partnership; Kayla Loschke, senior vice president of strategy at GTP; JuliAnn Mazachek, vice president for academic affairs at Washburn University; Shanae Holman, who has been active with Topeka JUMP, a coalition of Topeka ministries; the Rev. T.D. Hicks, pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church; Marsha Pope, executive director of the Topeka Community Foundation; and Keith Warta, president of Bartlett & West and a tri-chair for the

Momentum 2022 campaign to improve this community. At the time, De La Isla said, those involved with Momentum 2022 faced a challenge in terms of communicating their goals to the rest of the community in a manner that would help everyone to see themselves as being stakeholders in that campaign. The eight local participants in the Bloomberg Harvard program confronted that challenge head-on after they were asked to create a public

value statement for Momentum 2022. The statement they crafted said: “Momentum 2022 will measurably improve access to opportunity for all people and organizations to experience increased hope, health, happiness and prosperity.” Mazachek told The Capital-Journal afterward: “We really worked to put into about 15 words what the value of Momentum 2022 would be no matter who you were and no matter who read it.” After returning home, those eight people became even more involved with Momentum 2022, and have been working to determine how to put to use the tools and skill sets they have learned, De La Isla said. She noted that the Bloomberg Harvard program is also bringing Rodrigo Dorador, a graduate student at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, to spend this summer here to work on building out the communications strategy for Momentum 2022. “I just look at all of these opportunities that are opening up for the city of Topeka and say, ‘It was time,’” De La Isla said. “Because we have so many great people here. We have so many good things going on in our community, that I think it was time for people across the nation to know we are a well-hidden secret that’s wonderful in the Midwest.”

J4  Sunday, June 30, 2019 

Cervantez is downtown Topeka’s Mr. Clean By Rick Peterson rick.peterson@cjonline.com

A lot of people want their yards to be immaculate. For Paul Cervantez, his yard is Kansas Avenue and downtown Topeka. As maintenance specialist for the Greater Topeka Partnership, Cervantez says it’s up to him and his threeperson staff to make sure everything is bright, shiny and, most of all, clean when anyone comes downtown. “Basically I take care of all downtown, making

sure the sidewalks are cleared during snow, spring, summer and all of that, walking the sidewalks and all the flower beds for trash,” Cervantez said. “We also do all the events that we have down here. We set all that up, then we come back and take care of everything and make sure everything’s cleaned up.” Cervantez previously worked for a bakery, but he is now in his fifth year in his current position and said the job is a perfect fit.

“My wife knows I like outdoors and she said, ‘I’ve got a great job for you,’” Cervantez said. “It is fun and I get to meet a lot of people down here.” Cervantez said he and his staff are always

looking for new ways to make downtown better. “We’re working on two projects right now,” he said. “We are re-polishing all the statues and the monuments downtown. We’re also doing brand new benches on Jackson, taking all those boards out and putting brand new ones in and we’re painting the benches and everything, even the trash cans.” Cervantez, 58, said if he sees one piece of trash or something out of place, it isn’t acceptable. “Oh yes, I have to go

get it because I don’t like anything left out,” he said. “We come down Saturdays, too, and we’ll make sure there’s nothing overflowing, there’s nothing left out. We make sure that this is clean. “Just like when you’re home cutting grass you know how you like it, and that’s me down here. I like things a certain way.” Cervantez said he is proud of how downtown Topeka has grown, and continues to transpire. “It’s a big improvement,” he said. “I tell you what, I wish

we could get the old dimestores back like we used to have back in the days, but I see a lot of new things starting to come in.” And, like his wife told him he would, Cervantez loves what he does. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I’m going to stay here until I retire. I’ve got a great boss, great co-workers I’m working with. “You get to meet everybody and meet more business people down here and I’m always talking to them, ‘OK, what do you need from us?’”

Schmidt makes hot dogs a hot downtown commodity By Matt Galloway mgalloway@cjonline.com

A product of upstate New York, Bonnie Schmidt says she long aspired to own a Big Apple-style hot dog stand. Topekans have become the beneficiaries of that dream becoming a reality. Schmidt, 62, has run a mobile hot dog cart throughout the capital city since 2013, most notably at her hot spot across from the Shawnee County Courthouse, where she operates from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. most Thursdays. Born and raised in Johnson City, N.Y., Schmidt’s all-beef hot dogs, Polish and Italian sausages — and her thick New York accent — have become comforting staples for folks visiting the downtown area. An active nurse for 40

years, Schmidt moved to Topeka in 2003 and worked at correctional facilities throughout the state for a decade until burnout caused her to act on her long-held food service industry ambitions. Her memories of visiting New York City as a youth — “There were hot dog vendors on every street corner,” she recalled recently — provided ample inspiration, but in Topeka, Schmidt knew she’d have the market all to herself. Her first customers verified as much. “I received such a great reception once I started going downtown (on) Kansas Avenue. It was great,” Schmidt said. “It was just so great because they were like, ‘This is something different.’ They didn’t have it. They said a long, long time ago there had been a hot dog

vendor, but then just one day they didn’t show up. They never showed up again.” Still, Schmidt had her share of nerves at the outset. “Oh, God yeah. I was petrified,” she said. “But I had friends that owned a second-hand shop, so they let me set up in front of there so I could kind of get my feet wet so to speak and go from there and see what kind of reaction I got.” Schmidt jumped in feet-first, but opening a

mobile food business is more complicated than simply throwing money into the venture. Schmidt said she had to figure out what was expected of her from a health inspection standpoint, but coming from the nursing field, her inherent instincts to stress cleanliness made that a relatively easy obstacle. After obtaining a food vendor’s license, Schmidt had to figure out what exactly her business would look like — what products would be offered, what brands would be utilized, what price points would be set and a litany of other critical decisions. “And then it was what kind of quantity do I bring? How many people are going to come, and how do I put myself out there?” Schmidt recalled thinking. “Do I have a flag?”

Schmidt ironed out the details, and in the years since, she’s hit her stride. For those looking for a quick and convenient lunch in downtown Topeka, Schmidt offers a $5 meal that includes a quarter-pound hot dog, chips and a drink, with optional chili, grilled onions and other tasty toppings available on demand — “Have it your way,” she said with a laugh. Even more than the strides her business has made, Schmidt values the friendships, connections and references she’s made by putting herself smack-dab in the middle of the city. “I just get the personal satisfaction that I’m providing a service and they’re enjoying it,” Schmidt said. “It’s just something different for downtown Topeka.”

Another gratifying aspect of the job, Schmidt said, has been the opportunity to donate meals to members of Topeka’s homeless population. It’s a chance to “pay it forward,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do,” Schmidt said, “and it’s how I was raised.” Those parents who raised Schmidt are now living in Florida, and in a couple of years when Schmidt’s sister retires from her position at the DMV in upstate New York, they both plan to relocate to the Sunshine State to spend more time with their folks. So yes, when it comes to Schmidt’s business, it would be wise to get it while it’s hot. “I’m getting too old to tolerate the cold,” Schmidt said with a laugh. “I don’t want to shovel snow or chip away ice. I want to go to the pool.”

Sunday, June 30, 2019  J5

‘I’m having more fun now than ever before’ Local musician who once worked for James Brown has ‘I feel good’ moments playing for downtown listeners By Matt Galloway mgalloway@cjonline.com

Joe Araiza is home, although the Topeka the downtown sidewalk musician enjoys now is far different than the one the 68-year-old remembers from his past. And that’s A-OK with him, for the record. “Oh, I wouldn’t be playing out here 25 years ago. I’d probably be run off,” a chuckling Araiza recently said. Araiza, a downtown fixture who plays trumpet, keyboard and is quick to pull out an extra folding chair for anyone who strikes up a conversation with him, took a long and winding road back to Topeka. Born here in 1951, Araiza was raised in Kansas City, Mo., where at the age of 16 a chance encounter with legendary musician James Brown changed the trajectory of his life. Araiza met Brown at a concert, and the aspiring musician was offered the opportunity of a lifetime — a job in New York as Brown’s personal assistant, under the condition Araiza first finish his schooling. Two years later, Brown kept his word, and from 1968-69 the wide-eyed and admittedly overwhelmed Araiza served as a right-hand man for the Godfather of Soul. “Just the hardest working man in show business,” Araiza said

Joe Araiza plays the trumpet near Jersey Mike’s Subs in downtown Topeka on May 30. Born in Topeka in 1951 and raised in Kansas City, Mo., Araiza spent two years as a personal assistant to music legend James Brown. [CHRIS NEAL/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

of Brown, who died in 2006. “We were doing one-nighters from town to town to town. It was unreal. I grabbed a bite to eat whenever I could.” Araiza glad-handed with larger-than-life figures like Muhammad Ali and B.B. King, and behind the scenes he did the best he could at the grunt work that consumed his days. The teenager quickly learned how to survive in — to borrow a lyric from Brown — a man’s world.

“I was a teenager, very young — too young to be on the road,” Araiza said. “It wasn’t what you’d think. I was too young to handle that.” Araiza returned to the Kansas City area and honed his craft at Penn Valley Community College (now Metropolitan Community CollegePenn Valley). A self-described busker, Araiza performed in Westport for years before relocating to

Topeka. His experiences since that move have provided enough confidence for him to claim he’ll be playing hits such as “Baby Elephant Walk” and “When The Saints Go Marching In” exclusively in the capital city — and for a long time. “’Til I die,” Araiza said. “I’m not going back to Kansas City. Some guy tickled me, and I’m not trying to boast: He said, ‘Now that we got you from Kansas City, we’re going to keep you.’”

Recent renovations to downtown Topeka have certainly helped make the city a more welcoming place to Araiza, who performs at various times nearly every afternoon up and down Kansas Avenue. “They’ve been opening places, but I’ve seen it, I’ve witnessed it in the last year and a half,” Araiza said. “And I thought (the renovation project) was going to be a long time, but it snuck up on me so fast — boom.” In the trumpet, Araiza

has an instrument that he says has fascinated him and stimulated his curiosity since age 11, and one that continues to challenge him. Asked to describe what he enjoys most about being a performer, Araiza indicated each smile he elicits provides a fresh burst of energy. “I’m having more fun now than ever before,” Araiza said. “That’s what I’m finding out: In the end, that’s what it’s really about.”

J6  Sunday, June 30, 2019 

Suddenly ‘the av’ is the place to be

Downtown Topeka getting livelier, residents say By Tim Hrenchir


Downtown Topeka has gotten much livelier since Julian Jenkins and Marcelino Gomez III moved there last June, they say. A year ago, Gomez said, he’d be greeted by silence and a general lack of activity whenever he went out front after 5 p.m at their secondstory apartment in the 700 block of S. Kansas Avenue. “But now we go outside and there’s people hanging out, kids hanging out,” he said. “There’s people walking up and down ‘the av.’ We call it ‘the av.’” Shelley Jensen — who owns and operates Studio Bloom By Shelley, a photography business based downtown the past five years — says the level of excitement about that part of the city has risen considerably in the past year, and she thinks the best is yet to come. “I feel like I’m a part of something, and I’m a part of something that’s going to be big,” she said. Gomez, Jenkins and Jensen agreed that downtown is becoming a place where people want to go, and they’re glad to be there. Gomez, 31, said he has enjoyed having “ringside seats” to watch that transformation. He and Jenkins, 29, lived in an apartment near S.W. 34th and Fairlawn Road before moving to their current apartment, which is conveniently located fairly close to work for both of them. Jenkins is a graphic designer for Reliant Apparel, 631 S. Kansas Ave. Gomez is a co-owner, photographer and videographer for create\ uplift, a multimedia company that operates out of the Arts & Craftsman Workshop, a makerspace at 308 S.W. Van Buren.


matter if the goal is to develop downtown or bring more jobs here, it all ties back to creating an economy.” As might be expected with such an undertaking, there were some bumps the GTP had to deal with and overcome. But Pivarnik said most were minor and the transition to the GTP went a lot smoother than expected. “We tried to do a lot all at once,” Pivarnik said. “Creating the Partnership, we had what you would expect. We had a lot of cultures coming together, we had different customer relationship management systems, different benefits, different hours. “But there was nothing tumultuous or so terrible that it was a real negative. When I said, ‘Golly, we did way too much way too fast,’ they said they were glad we did it because it was done and now we can just focus on what we need to do. I don’t think I would do anything different. Where we’ve struggled the most is in our external communications with our

Shelley Jensen moved her business, Studio Bloom By Shelley, to 921 S. Kansas Ave. about a month ago. [PHOTOS BY THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]

“Being this close to my job is great,” Gomez said. He said his company does considerable business for downtown clients, including the Cyrus Hotel at 920 S. Kansas Ave. “My company is a big supporter of everything that’s going on downtown,” Gomez said. Gomez and Jenkins said they like to invite their friends to come downtown, and make a point to tell them how much they like living there. “People always ask us if the apartment next door is open or not,” Gomez said. Living downtown means he and Jenkins don’t have to shovel a front sidewalk or mow a back yard, he said. Gomez added that while finding parking downtown is a bit harder than it was a year ago, he is happy about that because it shows downtown is becoming more popular. Probably the only down side of living downtown is that Gomez and Jenkins don’t have a grocery store nearby, they said. Still, they said, the BP station at 600 S.E. Quincy has pretty much everything they would need in an emergency. customers, our stakeholders, members and board members. That seems the slowest in getting to norming. Each organization has control of their own destiny and what we’ve had to try and be careful with was over-saturating people with our message.” The GTP set up home downtown at 719 S. Kansas Ave. on the fourth and fifth floors. The shared space has been vital in allowing the entities that comprise GTP to consistently stay in close contact with each other, facilitating the norming process. The office space includes meeting rooms which Pivarnik said have been beneficial, creating traffic not only within the office but downtown in general. The GTP also has set up a temporary visitors center at 715 S. Kansas Ave., which will eventually find a permanent home on the first floor at the GTP’s current site. Even while the norming process continues, the GTP has turned much of its focus to the performing stage, the bulk of which is embodied by the Momentum 2022 strategic plan. Last year, a large contingent traveled to Chattanooga, Tenn., to learn about the

Shelley Jensen owns and operates Studio Bloom By Shelley, a photography business based downtown.

Marcelino Gomez III, left, and Julian Jenkins say downtown Topeka has gotten much livelier since they moved there last June.

Gomez stressed that whenever a festival or parade takes place downtown, “all we have to do is walk out the front door, and we’re there.” He thinks one key step in the area’s rejuvenation was the March 2018 opening of The Pennant, a restaurant at 915 S. Kansas Ave., which also features vintage video games and a bowling alley. That was followed by the openings last October of Iron Rail Brewery, 705 S. Kansas Ave., and the Cyrus Hotel last January. Downtown is now a place where visitors can “kind of” go bar hopping, Gomez said. Jenkins noted that bars are present at The

Pennant, Iron Rail, the Cyrus and the Celtic Fox, 118 S.W. 8th Ave. Likewise, Jensen said an increasing number of her friends are coming downtown to enjoy its nightlife. She said: “I just tell them, ‘Get down here. It’s fun.’” Jensen, who lives elsewhere in Topeka with her fiancee and three children, operates her studio out of a secondfloor location at 921 S. Kansas Ave., Apt. B. She said that about 10 years ago, while working as a graphic designer, she started her own photography business, Shelley Jensen Photography, while working out of her house’s basement.

As the business grew, she moved her studio about five years ago into downtown Topeka’s Tinkham Veale building at 909 1/2 S. Kansas Ave. She rebranded the company two years ago as Studio Bloom By Shelley. When it became clear her business was outgrowing its site at Tinkham Veale, Jensen said friends Thad Halstead and Cody Foster helped her find her current location across the street from Foster’s Cyrus Hotel. Jensen moved her photography studio about a month ago into that site, where she works with clients by appointment. She said last summer was when she began to

notice an increase in the number of people she saw downtown, as well as a rise in the enthusiasm people feel for that part of the city. “There’s a sense of excitement about downtown,” she said. “You just feel the energy.” Jensen said she planned to work to bring more people downtown by making her studio a place where artists could share their work and people would get together on First Fridays. “I really feel passionate about people coming down here, and I’m grateful to be in on the ground floor of this exciting thing that’s starting to happen,” she said. “This is going to be the place to be.”

revitalization that city has experienced in recent years. Situated on the Tennessee River, the city was once hailed as the dirtiest city in the U.S. But Chattanooga cleaned up its riverfront, pumped life into a stagnant downtown and transformed itself into a desirable location for businesses and residents alike. “I bet if you talked to anybody, they had their ‘Aha’ moment on the trip,” Pivarnik said. “Here’s mine. It wasn’t all that long ago that Chattanooga wasn’t a destination for visitors, jobs or residents. Now it’s a place people want to go live, work and play. I say that to say they’ve made themselves a renaissance city. “They turned their downtown from a stale, dead business district to an entrepreneurship, arts and business district. ... They’re really proud of themselves and I don’t think they were always proud of themselves. That’s one thing I think you’re starting to see here, just recently. It is no longer cool to be negative in Topeka and it’s actually pretty cool to be positive.” Pivarnik will lead another contingent of roughly 80 Topeka leaders traveling in early

October to Montgomery, Ala., for another information-gathering trip. Montgomery has its own version of Momentum 2022 and is using the same company out of Atlanta to help through the process as Topeka is for theirs. What really excites Pivarnik about the upcoming trip is the heritage tourism the cities share. Montgomery was the epicenter of the civil rights movement while Topeka has its own piece of that culture with the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. As Pivarnik and company saw on their trip to Chattanooga, transforming image is vital to the renaissance of a city. Achieving that objective, he said, is as simple as following a sports analogy. “We know for a fact that the baseline for every successful athlete is positive thinking first,” he said. “If you can’t get your mind right, you can’t get your game right. There’s no way. The same goes for cities. If we can’t get our mind right, there’s no way we can get our game right. I’ve had it with negativity. One of my favorite sayings right now is ‘In Topeka, you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of

the problem.’ We have a lot more people stepping up and being part of the solution. “The feeling of Topeka from the outside world, you want them saying good things. When I first started here and I went to those communities it was almost an ick factor. Now it’s ‘Something’s going on.’ It’s a positive vibe and not something they can put a finger on. Right now, they acknowledge something cool is happening.” So what is happening? Well, downtown Topeka continues to see increased activity and productivity. But that’s only part of it. Pivarnik sees the creation of the East Topeka Learning Center (Washburn Tech East) as a huge step for the city. Its location sends the message that Topeka is striving for economic equity across the board. “I’m anxious for it to go full power,” he said. “The technical training people can get can put them to work in our companies fast. We have some killer jobs in this community and we have to have people believe that they can go and get technical training and certification and get in those jobs quickly.” As Topeka moves

toward the performing Pivarnik and GTP envisions, his message is multi-faceted on how the potential can be fully realized. “First is the positivity and community morale thing,” Pivarnik said. “That’s our No. 1 challenge, believing we can. It’s about winning in the competition over other cities that are quite frankly trying to clean our clocks. They want our people, they want our companies. “Two, it’s keeping the pressure on quality of place and quality of life. Understanding that times have changed and it used to be a good old factory town, all they had to do was create jobs and people would come. It’s just not like that anymore. There are way more jobs than people to fill them. We have to stay focused on making this a place that’s desirable to live. “When we fix our positivity and continue to work on quality of place and quality of life, perception changes. And I mean outside perception from people in other parts of Kansas and other parts of our region and the rest of the U.S. They need to view Topeka and Shawnee County as a place they want to come to.”

Sunday, June 30, 2019  J7

DICUS From Page J1

range of stakeholders to reshape S. Kansas Avenue through downtown Topeka, and Dicus would leverage his investments for additional support. “Every city has a person that is highly respected and is always there when the community has a need,” said Vince Frye, president of Downtown Topeka Inc. “John Dicus is that person for Topeka. He has been a leader in this community for many years. It is in his genes.” Speaking up Former Topeka mayor Bill Bunten called Scott Gales in 2012 to enlist the architect’s help in the mayor’s pre-retirement mission. Before leaving office, the mayor said, he was determined to secure support for a downtown revitalization project, which the city council had just rejected. Gales, president of Architect One, and Mike Morse, a partner at Kansas Commercial Real Estate, had brainstormed ideas for reshaping downtown Topeka on a napkin at a chamber retreat on the topic four years earlier. Now, they found themselves in a meeting with Topeka’s biggest business executives, including Dicus. Gales and Morse envisioned the sweeping changes that would make downtown Topeka

the place where people wanted to be. They realized private investments would be necessary to unlock additional taxpayer funds, and they pitched their ideas to the business executives. “Well, here’s the deal,” Dicus said, as Gales remembers it. “We’re in. We’re committed, and I’m prepared to make a big donation. Before I say how much it is, here’s the condition: Half of that money can be spent toward Capitol Federal’s pocket park. But I want the other half to be spent on what makes the rest of the avenue awesome.” Dicus is modest about his role — “I guess if there’s anything, maybe, in one of those meetings I was the first one to speak up,” he said — but others saw him as the one who was willing to sell the idea to a skeptical public and influence other businesses to open up their checkbooks. “What a lot of people don’t know is John behind the scenes is out knocking on doors, helping get money raised,” Foster said. “All the donations you’ve seen, John’s been involved in going and asking those people.” Gales and Morse were hoping to get a $100,000 commitment. Dicus offered $500,000. Two weeks later, Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Westar Energy added six-figure commitments. Eventually, the group working to promote the streetscape effort raised $4.4 million in private funds. “People respected that he was willing to go up

there and take the bullets and the spears on those things,” Gales said, “because at that point, we were still just a harebrained idea. We had just gotten voted down, and we had a convincing response from the city council that they weren’t going to accept the same proposal again.” Dicus went before the council to make the case for a public-private partnership, and the council agreed to fund the underlying infrastructure changes. “He didn’t just write the check,” Morse said. “He was the advocate. And him being the lead donor is the reason we could go fundraise more.” Sticking around Capitol Federal didn’t have to stay in Topeka. The $9 billion banking institution, which started in Topeka in 1893, was surely courted by Kansas City and other communities where it has an imprint, Foster said, and the investment in the headquarters building is overlooked in the story of downtown Topeka’s turnaround. Foster said his own downtown investments were influenced by knowing there was an anchor business down the street. “For any project to take off, I think you need a few anchors on it,” Foster said. “Not only has John been an anchor for things downtown, I think John and CapFed and what they’ve built have been an anchor for our community. They probably don’t get the

credit they deserve.” Dicus said the decision to stay was an easy one. “You always look at all your options, but yeah, we never seriously considered moving somewhere else,” Dicus said. “And also, when you think about the timeframe when we were making that decision, it was coming right after the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. And even though that did not impact Capitol Federal and our business and our operations, it would not have been a good visual to make a big move somewhere else.” Morse said the 50-year-old building went through “a full gut and redo” with the largest investment downtown Topeka had ever seen. Now, as the city considers how to keep the improvements rolling, Topeka city manager Brent Trout said it is a luxury to have a strong employer like Capitol Federal that can make a difference in how vibrant the downtown can be. Under Trout’s direction, the city is trying to uphold its end of the public-private partnership by proposing a tax increment financing district to offset development costs downtown. “It’s a very competitive world out there, and for many of the businesses, in order to make the projects work, they need a little bit of help,” Trout said. “If they’re going to do an investment in the community, and the city can help them with

that investment, in the long term, the city will benefit.” Plaza pusher If you want to get something done downtown, Morse said, you go to Dicus. Stakeholders tried for a decade to build support for a downtown plaza, an idea not well received by “cave people,” or citizens against virtually everything, Morse said. Then, Morse said, Dicus offered $2.5 million for the plaza, and the banker wasn’t even interested in naming it for the bank. Instead, Dicus wanted fundraisers to use naming rights as a carrot for getting someone else to match his investment. Next year, Evergy Plaza will open as a free public space in the 700 block of S. Kansas, complete with a splash park, 30-foot digital screen and CapFed on 7th Stage. The hope is to schedule 200 days of activities per year. “I think the opportunity — whether it’s additional people living downtown, whether it’s restaurants, bars, entertainment activities, shops that come down here — when all of a sudden you start bringing that many people into the downtown, I think the other things will follow that serve those people while they’re down here,” Dicus said. Foster said Dicus is quick to deflect attention for his efforts to improve downtown Topeka, but when Dicus gets behind

a project like the plaza, it carries a lot of weight. For Foster, Capitol Federal is a shining example of how businesses should operate, and a model for Advisors Excel. “I don’t think people realize how much they’ve given,” Foster said. “They’ve done a pretty amazing job. If anyone were to ask me, they’re the one that I just watched how they’ve operated as a corporate citizen here in Topeka. It’s impressive and inspiring. They set a great example.” The bank has funneled enough cash into the CapFed Foundation to give away $65 million for community investments and scholarships and still have a foundation worth $100 million. Dicus said his dad made the decision years ago to give back to the communities where they live and work and try to make them a better place. The investments in downtown Topeka are important to Dicus. Just don’t ask him to take credit for them. “Sometimes I feel like I live in a glass house,” Dicus said. “People know enough about me. This isn’t about me. It isn’t about Capitol Federal. It’s about all of the people who saw a vision, bought into that and made it happen. One person can’t do it all. There has to be ideas. It takes a lot of people to believe in that and invest in it. If I just happen to be one of those, great. But it takes a lot more than just one.”

J8  Sunday, June 30, 2019 

Profile for CJ Media

Downtown Topeka: Dynamic Core  

The addition of a plaza, further development of the Kansas River and a thriving business/NOTO district have downtown Topeka celebrating its...

Downtown Topeka: Dynamic Core  

The addition of a plaza, further development of the Kansas River and a thriving business/NOTO district have downtown Topeka celebrating its...

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