Editor’s Note: Earlier this week, The Herald brought you its Top 10 stories of 2017. Today, we are taking a look at events that are likely to occur in 2018, based on recent developments — from commerce to the classroom. In February and March, the Herald’s annual three-part Progress edition will provide in-depth coverage of these issues and others.

Proximity Park

Proximity Park, the new business park south of Ottawa, will gain momentum in 2018, with Ottawa, Franklin County officials and economic development leaders laying the groundwork for a park that is sure to draw interest from businesses eager to invest in this region.

The venture at 2542 Montana Road is located on 300-plus acres near the Ottawa airport. The Franklin County Development Council is in charge of marketing the park to potential site selectors. The FCDC instituted a marketing plan earlier this year, which included a new website.

In early November, Derek Brown, county administrator/counselor, said improvements to Kingman and Montana roads are just around the corner.

“The design of the project is largely completed,” Brown said. “We are on the cusp of construction at this point. Our obligation is to improve Kingman and Montana roads and there is a bridge on Kingman. For us, that [bridge] likely will be the first step. We would like to begin replacing that bridge. We are nearing a point [to start]. Hopefully, that occurs in the not-to-distant future.”

The business park will be built on 315 acres, bordered by I-35 to the north, Kingman Road on the south, Montana Road to the east and Rock Creek on the west. Even though infrastructure improvements for the park have a long way to go, the behind-the-scenes work of gaining tenants is revving up.

At the park’s groundbreaking in July, Chris Gutierrez, KC SmartPort president, said the park is catching the attention of site selectors right now.

“You are going to get more activity as we move forward,” he said. “I have been out here with clients. This is what they need.”

John Coen, Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said at the groundbreaking ceremony the project is preparing the community for the future.

“The sustainability of a community is incumbent on having a full range of services for all [residents],” he said. “That certainly includes jobs. Jobs not only create income for [residents] to make a living for a quality of life, but the buildings and structures, which house those workers, create a taxing base, which pays for services and infrastructure. It keeps our community vibrant and viable.”

DOWNTOWN RIVER PLAZA

Watch for the Downtown River Plaza project to gain traction in 2018.

Ottawa City Commission and staff offered unanimous support in November for the project to turn space at Walnut Street, between First and Second streets, into an area where people can gather for events, entertainment and possibly a farmer’s market.

Coen, the Chamber’s chief executive, presented the initial plan to city commissioners last month, who voted 5-0 to approve the project.

Coen said the project, which covers half of a city block, would consist of several phases. The first phase would be cosmetic — creating landscape in the green spaces, erecting pergolas and improving the parking lot. The second phase includes adding a covering for a pavilion market area.

The proposal before city commissioners was broken into three areas: public support of the project, allocating $10,000 to offset the costs of the Charettes and taking possession of any donated land.

“We are requesting $10,000 to offset our community development planning we did last January,” Coen said. “I am asking [them] to publicly support this downtown Ottawa project. We think it is something that is significant that can have a changing force in our downtown area and our entire community. We are working to raise private funds to make this become a reality. We are asking for public recognition, some help with some of our expenses, which we think have been important in community development. Also to accept those land donations.”

Commissioner Mike Skidmore said the city discussed for years ways to promote where the rail trails intersect at First and Walnut streets.

“This project would be one of the better ways to enhance our potential in the downtown — not only the rail trails but to draw people to the downtown area,” he said.

Ideas on how to improve the downtown corridor came from Chamber-organized Charettes in January, a meeting of about 140 community members and business leaders. Architect One, a Topeka firm that partnered with the Chamber on the project, broke down the data and came up with three possible projects.

The first was the downtown market pavilion. The second was narrowing Main Street and widening the sidewalks to make downtown more pedestrian friendly. The third was to refurbish the century-old Ottawa Memorial Auditorium and make it more modern.

The Onward Ottawa Board, which consists of 50 percent Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce and 50 percent Franklin County Development Council members, met and were determined to find a project to enhance the downtown area, Coen said. The River Plaza rose to the top after the group established three sets of goals.

Coen said the goals were to increase pride and stronger sense of community in Ottawa and Franklin County; establish downtown Ottawa as a destination where people come to engage in retail, but additionally gather for recreation, entertainment and enjoy a vibrant environment, and encourage local ownership of buildings with the intent of further securing and improving our historical downtown infrastructure.

He said the board discussed in length each of the proposals that came from Architect One.

“We wanted to identify the project we thought would have the most lift,” Coen said. “To us, it seemed the Downtown Market Pavilion. We identified the area at First and Walnut [streets], which has several advantages. It is at the corner of the Flint Hills and Prairie Spirit trails. It allowed us to improve a corner that looks a little industrial. There is not much landscaping there. It is pretty plain. It can be dressed up and made attractive and create a place where people can come together.”

PRAIRIE FIRE HOUSING

New housing should spring up in the coming months in north Ottawa.

Ottawa city commissioners in mid-December unanimously approved a moderate income housing grant agreement with the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation (KHRC) for $400,000 toward the construction of six moderate income two-bedroom rental units near North Cherry and Enterprise streets, northwest of Lincoln Elementary School.

Construction of the 1,064-square-foot units will constitute phase one of Prairie Fire Development Group’s three-phase housing project, which aims to construct about 56 moderate to low income housing units on the nearly nine-acre parcel of land. Prairie Fire is a development group out of Olathe.

“The grant requires that [contractors] begin construction by April 1, 2018...There is infrastructure necessary to make this go forward, as well as a plat. All of those steps should happen in the first quarter of 2018,” Wynndee Lee, the city’s director of community development, told city commissioners in December.

“I am personally excited to see some progress made toward our housing issue that we have had for many many years,” city commissioner Skidmore said. “And I think this is the first progress of hopefully more to come.”

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS

A new Ottawa hotel will welcome guests in 2018.

Ottawa city commissioners in September approved an ordinance 5-0 that imposes a 1 percent sales tax for visitors of a new hotel.

The project, being developed by Ottawa Lodging LLC, would be located in the city’s recently created tax increment financing (TIF) district, known as the NW I-35 and Princeton Redevelopment District. The district encompasses land between 23rd Street on the north, I-35 on the south, South Princeton Street on the east and the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail on the west, according to Herald archives.

Contractors broke ground in December on the future site of the hotel. The construction of the approximately 80-room hotel is the product of substantial work by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, the City of Ottawa, Franklin County Development Council, Ottawa Planning Commission and Ottawa Lodging LLC, most notably through the enactment of the TIF district to promote development in the area. The hotel is slated for completion in May 2018.

SCHOOL BOND PROJECT

The Ottawa school district’s bond project is nearing completion of the first phase of the new Career and Technical Education Center at Ottawa High School, 1120 S. Ash St., Ottawa.

The first portion for Career Tech Ed, which includes culinary classrooms, health science classrooms and two vacant classrooms at this time, is expected to be finished in March, Ryan Cobbs, assistant superintendent, said during a school board meeting in late November.

The second part of the Career Tech Ed renovations include updating the old building with the early childhood classrooms, which won’t be done until summertime, Cobbs added.

“Even though the first section is slated to be done around March, they’ll use it as a lay-down area to finish the portions in the second area, so we wouldn’t open it up for student capacity until next year,” Cobbs said.

And although OHS opened its new administration offices and science wings at the beginning of this school year, there is still a “punch list” to complete “inch by inch,” Jeanne Stroh, Ottawa superintendent, said.

Last for the bond project portion at the high school will be the Performing Arts Center, which will also start work this summer, but won’t be completed until fall 2019.

The voter-approved bond project included improvements to facilities throughout the district, as well as construction of Sunflower Elementary, which opened in August.