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From theater to abandoned railway, downtown has untapped potential

A K-State planning class spent about six weeks taking a hard look on how to improve downtown Clay Center and attract people to shop in Clay Center.

Student Andrew Young said the class “really worked on the downtown” and looked at ways “to implement big city ideas.”

The class worked together in researching the community, focused their efforts primarily on the Courthouse Square and Sixth Street and then broke up into groups to focus on a particular idea. The project was arranged through Clay County Economic Development.

Professor Blake Belanger said the project resulted in some great discussion, provided some real world experience and gave the students an opportunity to interact with a community on their projects.

“We hope it will have a positive influence on Clay Center,” he said.

In presenting four different proposals last night in front of Common Ground, each of the groups agreed that Clay Center needs more signs and work on pedestrian area to improve the town’s business district.

Student Amy Roether said overall, lack of signs and “inconsistent lighting” concerned them. They also recommended more benches, work on crosswalks to make them better marked, beautification including more flowers and vegetation, and other such ideas to make the downtown “more friendly to pedestrians.”

TOWN CENTER PROPOSAL -- Student Jessica Jennings said her group proposed Clay Center bring back “cultural aspects” by renovating and reopening The Rex Theater, making the Courthouse more ADA accessible, and adding little parks throughout the downtown.

The town center proposal focused largely on the green space in the Courthouse Square and adding things to the Square such as additional benches and a splash park.

CREATING CONNECTIONS -- In this proposal students Zach Rostetter and Rachel Fox proposed creating a pedestrian walkway along the decommissioned railway right-of-way that runs through the center of town, which would connect both ends of town from the Aquatic Park through the downtown and Dexter Park, all the way to the County Fairgrounds.

The plan calls for improving, beautifying and cleaning up pedestrian walkways along that route, as well as adding sidewalks where there currently aren’t any. The students saw not having a pedestrian thorough-way that runs all the way through town as a problem.

Rostetter said the plan should be done in phases, and there is potential for additional walking trails at the ends.

COMPLETING CLAY CENTER -- This proposal focused on how Clay Center could redirect people from the highways into the downtown and make Sixth Street part of the downtown.

Students Charlie Schmidt and Mason Herrman said there is potential for growth on Sixth Street not only because it’s a highway with proximity to the downtown, but also because there are nice amenities there, including a historic library and a nice park. Crossing Sixth Street, however is “very difficult,” so they recommended more cross lights and stoplights there.

An important component of their plan is to turn the US-24/K-15 intersection into a round-about that’s sloped in the center to allow oversized vehicles to go straight through. The round-about would be an ideal spot to place signage redirecting people to the downtown.

The group also proposed extensive reconstruction of the downtown streets and sidewalks by widening the sidewalks, raising the curbs and narrowing the streets, which Schmidt described as “obnoxiously wide.” Narrowing the streets would slow down traffic and make the downtown more pedestrian friendly, he said.

REESTABLISHING IDENTITY -- Students Regan Tokos and Lesley Frohberg said their group was very impressed with Clay Center’s ‘Tree City USA’ identity. While there are lot of trees throughout the city, that isn’t reflected in the downtown other than around the courthouse, they said.

Planting trees and other vegetational in the downtown would provide much needed shade and beautification. They proposed to do that adding “pocket parks” through out the downtown and near the elementary school that would be connected with pedestrian walkways and crosswalks and signage.

The public green spaces would “liven up the streets and give people a place outdoors to hang out” between shopping, for picnics and other activities,” Frohberg said.

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