PITTSBURG — At an event hosted Thursday evening to discuss future infrastructure and economic development, Deputy City Manager Jay Byers used an analogy from Alice in Wonderland to explain the city’s need for long-term planning.
“We know about the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, right?” Byers said. “The Cheshire Cat asks Alice where she’s going and she doesn’t really know, and he says ‘Well it doesn’t really matter which path you take, then.’ I want to avoid the Cheshire Cat situation. If we have a plan, we need to know where we’re headed with that and where we want to be as a community 5, 10, 20 years from now.”
The event, titled “Imagine Pittsburg 2030: A Community Conversation” and held at Block22 in downtown Pittsburg, also featured other speakers including Brian Coomes, a civil engineer with Olsson Associates, as well as Blake Benson and Susan Cook, co-chairs of the Imagine Pittsburg 2030 (IP2030) Economic Development Task Force.
Cook noted that the city issued more than 50 new business licenses in 2019.
“If you think about our larger businesses today, most of them started off as small businesses,” said Benson, who is president of the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce in addition to his IP2030 task force role.
Gordon Elliott, co-chair of IP2030’s public wellness committee, said during a question-and-answer period at the event that because of new businesses opening downtown, parking is becoming an issue which will need to be dealt with.
“We’re going to have to come up with some parking lots,” he said.
In response, Byers noted that creating parking areas comes with a cost.
“If you’re taking away developable land to put a car, that means you’re not going to have a business there,” Byers said.
“But you also have to take care of the land that’s already developed,” Elliott said. “Here we’ve invited a number of new businesses to come to this particular area and we need to protect them.”
Brian Sullivan, Freeman Health System’s vice president for regional services for Southeast Kansas, attended both Thursday’s event and a previous visioning session aimed at getting public input on the city’s land use plan in July.
Sullivan said in July that he has a passion for outdoor activities such as running, bicycling, and hiking, and having those kinds of opportunities available is important to attracting people to the community.
“Also as a healthcare professional, that’s important to me because it promotes healthy lifestyles, and so there’s a personal and a professional reason why I’m very interested in that,” he said. “So connectivity with our trails, and safe, well-lit places for recreation are really important to me.”
Sullivan also said in July that he understands the city’s prioritizing of getting new housing built in Pittsburg and thinks it will be successful in attracting people to live in the city rather than commuting from elsewhere.
“The one thing that concerns me though just thinking in the big picture is we will have to continue to watch our property taxes,” he said. “I know that when we have to compete with the easy accessibility for people to live across the state line, and they have a significant decrease in property taxes, that’s a serious competition factor, regardless of the housing stock being here.”
Overall, however, Sullivan said Thursday that the city’s visioning process for future land use, infrastructure, and economic development has been moving in the right direction.
“I like the refreshers that we’re getting,” Sullivan said, adding that he appreciates how the city and IP2030 organizers have been incorporating public input they’ve received into their planning process.
“That was mentioned multiple times here was ‘This is what we heard, this is what people want, and it’s aligning with what we think we’re going to do,’ and I like that,” he said.