PITTSBURG — In front of a crowd of about 260 people, Pittsburg Mayor Patrick O’Bryan spoke on a wide variety of topics Thursday, April 4 at the 2019 State of the City Luncheon, addressing both priorities for Pittsburg’s growth and development and challenges the city faces.

Early in his speech, O’Bryan noted that in 2010, the city launched the Imagine Pittsburg 2030 Plan.

“Our chamber of commerce, area schools, healthcare organizations, church leaders, university officials, industry professionals, nonprofits and citizens all had a hand in creating this document, which now serves as the roadmap for our community,” O’Bryan said. “Never before had we come together like this to create a shared vision for our community, and I believe it marked a turning point in the history of Pittsburg.”

More recently, the city has been seeing consistent economic growth, with 39 new businesses opening in 2018, O’Bryan said. “According to the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau, more than 100,000 hotel room stays were recorded in 2018,” he said, “the first time our hotels have ever reached that benchmark, and there’s more room to grow.”

The local job market has grown significantly in the last five years, O’Bryan said, with more than 1,300 new jobs added, and unemployment is now at its lowest level since the 1990s.

“These figures do not happen on their own,” he said. “They are the result of a concentrated effort to recruit and retain businesses and foster an environment that welcomes businesses and people to our community.”

Cities across Kansas and in the nearby region are struggling to retain medical facilities, O’Bryan pointed out. “Even so, Pittsburg has held its place as a regional medical hub,” he said. “The city has experienced considerable growth in the healthcare industry, with expansions in emergency care, surgical care, specialty and primary care.”

Improving options for outdoor recreation and transportation are important priorities for the city, the mayor said.

“For Pittsburg to become a healthier city, our built environment needs to accommodate not just motorists, but pedestrians and cyclists as well,” he said, “making it easier and safer for our citizens to make healthy choices.”

The city has also been working on a wide variety of road repaving and improvement projects, building new sidewalks, making upgrades to the Atkinson Municipal Airport, and working with outside agencies such as the Kansas Department of Transportation on various infrastructure projects.

“Of course infrastructure doesn’t just consist of roads, utilities, bridges and traffic signals,” O’Bryan said. “It includes technology as well.”

With that in mind, the city has been working to improve internet infrastructure.

“We now have five broadband providers offering high speed internet,” O’Bryan said, “making Pittsburg as well connected as any city in the country.”

Availability and affordability of high quality housing is also a priority for the city, O’Bryan said.

“As you look around our community, it is difficult to ignore the need for quality housing,” he said. The city has also been working to demolish or refurbish dilapidated buildings. In 2017, the city demolished 86 structures, followed by 38 more in 2018. 14 others are scheduled for demolition in 2019 so far, O’Bryan said.

“However we aren’t just tearing down homes,” O’Bryan said. “We’re building them as well.”

He highlighted plans to break ground later this year on Silverback Landing, “the most significant housing development Pittsburg has seen in nearly 50 years, and the first planned community since Countryside Addition was constructed.” When Silverback Landing is eventually completed over the next several years, a total of 150 new homes are expected to be built.

“Of course we cannot address housing without bringing up Block 22,” O’Bryan said. The Block 22 project to renovate four historic buildings in Pittsburg’s downtown has moved forward in recent years, with several more businesses planned to open this summer.

O’Bryan also discussed the city’s plans related to providing electricity.

“One of our greatest challenges is the cost of electricity,” he said. “For several years, we noticed the city’s electricity costs were going up at a rate higher than our revenues.”

The city has heard concerns about the cost of electricity from both residents and businesses that might consider moving to Pittsburg, O’Bryan said.

“We recently engaged a qualified, experienced team to find out the technical, legal, financial aspects of creating a public power utility for Pittsburg,” he said. “A locally-owned electric utility has the potential to positively impact the whole community in both the short and long term in many ways.”

O’Bryan added that “even if the results of the end analysis shows that public power is not feasible, the information uncovered will be valuable to our citizens as we continue to explore our options.”

O’Bryan said the city values public input, and ended his speech by emphasizing the importance of collaboration of various interested parties to work together for Pittsburg’s future development.

“So I leave you with this challenge,” O’Bryan said. “Let us build a community that is resilient in the face of difficulty. Let us build a community that embraces the future while celebrating the past. Let us build a community that is open to new ideas and opportunities. Let us build a community whose strength is in our ability to change for the better. Let us move forward together.”