Thursday, April 24, 2014

Looking forward to 2013

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 12/31/2012

Commercial development often is predicated on first adding new residential rooftops, one local community leader said.

John Coen, president and chief executive officer of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the opportunity exists to do both in Ottawa and the surrounding area in 2013.

Commercial development often is predicated on first adding new residential rooftops, one local community leader said.

John Coen, president and chief executive officer of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the opportunity exists to do both in Ottawa and the surrounding area in 2013.

His outlook for the Ottawa Chamber and community is part of The Herald’s look at what events, issues and people will help shape the community in 2013.

Coen, who took the helm of the Chamber in August, said Ottawa is well-located along I-35 to take advantage of the BNSF Railway Co.’s new intermodal rail hub facility near Edgerton and Gardner.

“The new intermodal facility is going to be adding a lot of jobs, and not all of those folks are going to live in Gardner and Edgerton,” Coen said. “So, I think Ottawa — which has a lot of amenities, but still has that small-town feel — should be in a good position to attract some of those workers to this community.

“I also think we’ll be in a position to attract some businesses that serve the intermodal facility,” he said.

In addition to trying to attract new businesses to the community and grow its membership, the Ottawa Chamber, which marked its 83rd anniversary in December, will continue to strive to help its current members be successful, Coen said.

“We are working with Ottawa University, which has always been one of our strong community partners, to make sure the students’ time in Ottawa is a rewarding experience, as well as try to encourage them to remain in the community after they graduate and bring their talents to our local work force,” Coen said Friday.

With CNN Money magazine recently naming Ottawa one of the best small towns in the U.S. in which to retire, Coen said he is hopeful the community will be able to take advantage of that opportunity to encourage more people to look at Ottawa as a good place to spend their later years, which in turn should grow the local economy.

Early last summer, the boards of the chamber and the Franklin County Development Council decided to split Tom Weigand’s duties into two positions when the former longtime president/CEO of the chamber and part-time director of the county’s economic development group left to become president/CEO of the Junction City Area of Chamber of Commerce. 

The result of that move to split Weigand’s duties into two positions, Coen said, showed local leaders’ commitment to economic development.

“We want to make sure we aren’t just satisfied with the gains we’ve made in Ottawa and Franklin County in the past,” Coen said. “We want to be poised to take advantage of growth opportunities in the future.”

Expanding

development

Toward that end, residents should look for Jeff Seymour to continue to forge new business relationships in the coming weeks that could bring economic development to Franklin County this year and beyond.

Seymour, 28, became the first full-time executive director of the Franklin County Development Council Nov. 5, as a result of Weigand’s departure.

In a recent interview, Seymour said he was working with Ottawa officials, business owners, FCDC board members and other leaders to catalog an inventory of property and buildings that are available to help facilitate future economic development in Ottawa.

“The good news is that Ottawa’s industrial park has been extremely successful, but we’re close to running out of property,” Seymour said. “We are looking to determine where our best opportunities for expansion are located. Communities like Lawrence and Topeka have shovel-ready land available, so we need to make sure we are prepared [to accommodate growth].”

Each community in the county has its own needs, Seymour said, and his goal is to help those communities meet their objectives. One piece of that equation involves ensuring the county has an available, trained workforce, he said.

Seymour said he sees his role as not only helping develop a workforce pipeline in Franklin County, but making sure that the workforce is aligned with the proper training to meet the needs of businesses and industries, as well as be positioned to help the county attract new economic development.

Seymour said he is excited about the economic development opportunities in Franklin County. Like Coen, he said the county is well-suited to take advantage of the BNSF Railway’s new intermodal facility.

“I think we would be in a good position to attract a logistics company,” Seymour said. “Ottawa also has had success attracting niche-market manufacturers who have carved out good businesses.”

Business growth

One of those manufacturers is the Ottawa Industrial Park’s newest tenant.

Monoflo International, a plastic products manufacturer, will be adding 15 new jobs when it opens this month, with the prospect of bringing 65 jobs to the community in the next five years, company representatives said.

In August 2012, Monoflo acquired the former Kennel-Aire LLC facility, 1550 N. Davis Ave., Ottawa. Representatives of the Winchester, Va.-based company told city officials Monoflo plans to make a $6-million investment in its Ottawa operation. Since the acquisition, the company has been busy renovating the space and bringing in equipment from its Reno, Nev., plant, company representatives said.

Ford Motor Company, Home Depot, Lowe’s, CVS and Costco are among Monoflo’s customers, according to the company’s website, which says it is an industry leader in reusable transport packaging. The firm produces pallets, totes, crates and containers used in the warehouse-to-retail distribution network. 

“Our new 100,000-square-foot facility in Franklin County will provide Monoflo with the space needed to expand our operation and better service our customers,” Henning Rader, Monoflo’s president, said in August about the acquisition of the former Kennel-Aire building.

While Monoflo kicks off the new year as the newest tenant in the industrial park, Advantage Ford plans to open for business at its new location by the end of 2013 at the corner of 23rd and South Oak streets, near I-35. 

Some of the Ford dealership’s partners and executives recently participated in a ground-breaking ceremony at the new site. The new dealership is expected to be completed by Dec. 1, 2013, Rick Nunez, Advantage Ford general manager, said at the event.

Advantage Ford has told city officials it plans to build a 26,645-square-foot dealership and service center on 3.9 acres of land southeast of the intersection of East 23rd and South Oak streets in a commercial district on Ottawa’s south side.

A report by the city’s financial advisor, Bruce Kimmel, showed the dealership has acquired three parcels of land at a total price of $769,359 at 2330 S. Oak, 2320 S. Oak and 244 E. 23rd streets. With an estimated construction cost — including landscaping and parking lots — of about $2.2 million, the project’s total cost would be about $3 million, according to Kimmel’s report. Kimmel is a senior financial adviser with Ehlers, a Roseville, Minn.-based firm that specializes in public finance issues. 

The three parcels of land where the dealership would be built are bounded by East 23rd Street to the north, South Oak Street to the east, private property lines to the west and I-35 to the south. 

Airport changes

Ottawa Municipal Airport, which could have a new fixed-based operator by April, also will play a key role in the city’s economic future, city officials said.

“I want to take the time to make sure we find the right [fixed-based operator] for the airport, as well as look at how we can best use the airport to enhance economic development in the community,” Richard Nienstedt, city manager, said in a Dec. 19 interview. “Our goal is to have a new fixed-based operator in place by the first of April.”

The city is looking for an operator to succeed Chuck LeMaster, 80, who resigned in mid-December. The airport is located about three miles southeast of Ottawa at 2178 Montana Road.

Andy Haney, public works director, Bob Bezek, city attorney, and Nienstedt met with pilots who lease space at the airport’s hangar in mid-December.

Pilots also can expect to refuel their planes at a savings to start the new year.

“I thought we had a good meeting with the pilots,” Nienstedt said. “We also informed them that we were reducing the fuel cost from $6.50 a gallon to $5.50 a gallon, and they thought that would be competitive with other airports in the area. I thought the meeting was very productive.”

Father-and-son team Lloyd and Mark Switzer, who helped LeMaster operate the airport, have agreed to stay on at the operation, Nienstedt said.

“We are also talking with a retired airport manager about being at the airport two or three days a week” in the interim until a new fixed-base operator is in place, Nienstedt said.

The Ottawa Airport Advisory Board will assist city officials in the search for the new fixed-base operator, the city manager said.

ADA upgrades

The City of Ottawa also will make a push to ensure public facilities and city intersections are ADA compliant in 2013.

The city plans to form an Americans with Disabilities Act advisory board in the coming weeks to prioritize such ADA improvement projects, Nienstedt said in mid-December.

“We want to make sure we are ADA compliant at all of our public facilities, and we are upgrading intersections around town to make them ADA compliant as well,” Nienstedt said. “A community needs to be accessible to everyone.”

Nienstedt said city staff plan to present a proposed city ordinance at the city commission’s meeting Wednesday that — with commissioners’ approval — would form the advisory board.

Play push

The City of Ottawa’s Play Task Force is re-energizing it fundraising efforts this year to replace the large timber playground at Forest Park. 

The task force has asked Ottawa residents to “go green” and help the group raise funds for playground projects at the same time by donating empty ink and toner cartridges and unwanted cell phones, small electronics, digital cameras and laptops. The items are sent to the FundingFactory Recycling Program, and the task force receives cash for the recycled items.

Forest Park’s outdated timber playground has made fundraising a priority in 2013, task force members have said.

The fundraising effort received a boost last week when the city received a $15,000 grant from Ottawa Community Partnership Inc. and American Eagle Outfitters.

The Chamber’s Coen, who also is president of Ottawa Community Partnership Inc., delivered checks in late December to some local businesses and organizations in response to grant proposals they made to the Partnership and American Eagle. The Ottawa Community Partnership’s original intent was for the money to be used to build a YMCA for the community, but the funds were doled out to several grant recipients instead when the YMCA drive fell short of its goal.

The city plans to put the funding toward its Forest Park playground project, Wynndee Lee, the city’s director of planning and codes administration, said. This funding puts the city $15,000 closer to its goal of raising $150,000 for the project.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” Lee, who wrote the grant proposal, said. “This is a big and great first start for our commitment to the project.”

With a $70,000 commitment from the city, the gift puts playground planners past the halfway mark, Lee said. The new playground would offer both residents and visitors an amenity that would improve the quality of life in the community for families of the workforce brought by employers, she said.

‘Bark Park’

A push to establish a dog park in Ottawa was unleashed in November, and organizers are hopeful the “Bark Park” might become a reality in 2013.

“We have needed a dog park for a long time, and I am excited to begin the fundraising portion of the project,” Ottawa resident Kim Geist, who is co-chairing the booster group with Ottawa resident Dawn Rush, said. “I know there are many folks who would enjoy a place to let their dogs run off-leash, safely.”

The city’s Lee recently gave Ottawa city commissioners an update on the project.

“City staff has been working with members of the community to develop one or two dog parks in our area, but has just begun the process,” Lee said.

The next steps include discussions about location, amenities and costs, she said. And fundraising. 

City commissioners in November approved a fundraiser in which pet owners who are renewing their dogs’ licenses could receive a bone-shaped tag for an additional donation of $5 per tag. Dog owners who pay the regular license fee would receive the conventional round tag for their pets.

Additionally, engraving on either style of dog tag can be done for a $5 donation at Sutton’s Jewelry, 207 S. Main St., Ottawa. Cathy Sutton is a dog park supporter, Lee said. The engraving could include the dog’s name and owner’s address and phone number.

Donations collected for the bone-shaped dog tags and the engraving will go toward establishing the dog park, Lee said.

Co-chair Rush encouraged residents to participate in the fundraiser when they renewed their pets’ licenses.

“I am excited to be a part of the booster group and have already purchased my 2013 license,” Rush said.

Dog licenses, which are required of all dogs in the City of Ottawa, are renewed annually at the first of the year at City Hall.

Representatives of Prairie Paws Animal Shelter, 3173 K-68, Ottawa, are working with the dog park boosters group to establish a dog park or parks. 

“I am glad to be working cooperatively to see that the dogs in our area have these amenities,” Mi’Chielle Cooper, Prairie Paws executive director, said in November. “I worked on the development of such a park in Emporia, and it was a joy to see the animals frolic.”

Revived space

In addition to improvements in city parks, Ottawans might see a garden paradise spring up in the midst of the community’s historic downtown business district in the coming months.

Robert Wright, the new owner of the vacant lot at 124 S. Main St., said Dec. 21 he would like to turn the space into a garden area where receptions and other gatherings could take place.

Wright, owner of the building to the south at 128 S. Main St., recently acquired the lot from CrossFirst Bank of Leawood, which obtained permission from the city in mid-February 2012 — after a pair of public hearings — to tear down the three-story building on the lot because it had been deemed a safety hazard. The lot has remained in an unfinished state since the structure, built circa 1882, was razed in spring 2012.

“Depending on how finances work out, I’d like to put a wrought-iron fence along the front of the property where that false storefront barricade is sitting now,” Wright, who has a real estate office in Overbrook, said. “The building [128 S. Main St.] and the lot are for sale. But if that doesn’t work out, my plan is to put in a garden and patio area on the lot where people could have receptions.”

Wright said as part of a settlement, CrossFirst Bank paid to have the lot filled. The new lot owner said he would work with city inspectors to make sure the lot is filled, graded and drains properly in the coming weeks.

Downtown mural

In other work downtown, the first panel of the Edward E. Haley Community Park mural should be complete by the end of January, project organizers said. And with some fundraising help, organizers said they hope to complete the project this year.

Ottawa artist Scott Braden has been commissioned by the Ottawa Main Street Association to paint a giant mural on the wall of the 205 S. Main St. building that defines the southern border of the park at Second and Main streets in Ottawa’s historic downtown. The project will cost $14,000 for materials and labor.

Braden submitted the winning drawing for the historic-themed mural, which depicts five iconic Ottawa elements: a Bennett ice wagon, the Forest Park front entrance, the old fire station, a vintage piece of Warner Manufacturing Co. machinery and the Zellner building, which once stood on the site of Haley Park. Each element will be painted on a panel, and the five panels will be attached to the side of the building to form the mural.

Becci Shisler, the Main Street association’s program director, said in mid-November that Braden already had started work on the first panel, of Forest Park, which will be located nearest the downtown park’s gazebo and should be finished around the end of January.

Locals heading to statehouse

Franklin County residents who have been clamoring for one of their own to represent them in the statehouse for more than a decade got their wish, times two, in the November general election. 

Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, and Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, succeeded in earning seats in the Kansas Legislature. Both Franklin County men will be sworn into office this month when the 2013 legislative session opens Jan. 14 in Topeka.

Finch, a local attorney, defeated former state Rep. TerriLois Gregory, R-Ottawa, in the August primary. Finch then moved on to the general election where he defeated the county’s top Democratic leader, Caleb Correll, D-Ottawa, to represent Kansas House District 59, which includes all of Ottawa, northern Franklin and parts of Osage counties.

Jones ran unopposed in the August primary election, and then defeated 18-year incumbent Bill Feuerborn, D-Garnett, in the general election to represent Kansas House District 5, which includes eastern Franklin, most of Anderson and western parts of Linn and Miami counties.

Finch and Jones talked with officials from Franklin County, the City of Ottawa and the Ottawa school district about the upcoming session during a local legislative dinner in late November.

“I hope that we can work in the spirit of cooperation to get things done in Topeka that are in the best interests of this district and the state,” Finch said.

Jones talked about the importance of maintaining a partnership of trust between state legislators and local school, city and county officials. He pledged to work hard to maintain that trust and said he welcomed calls from his constituents. 

Jones vowed to work quickly to get up to speed on all the issues. The freshman lawmaker said he was grateful for the opportunity to serve.

“I appreciate your support, and I look forward to serving you,” Jones said.

Finch said he understood the need for local governments to be able to plan ahead, and he said the state Legislature needs to have a fiscally responsible long-range plan in place so local governing entities will have a better idea of what state funding will be available down the road. 

“That’s just smart government,” Finch said.

Finch — who previously served as an Ottawa city commissioner, Franklin County counselor and sought an Ottawa school board seat when he was 17 years old — said he understands what a tough job local elected officials have, and he wants to ensure local governments have a voice in the state governing process. 

Finch said he is not going to Topeka with the intention of telling local governments how to do their jobs, but rather to work to make sure local governance can be successful for the benefit of all Kansans.

New county faces

And on the local government level, residents will see a couple of new faces in the Franklin County government this year.

In the race for Franklin County clerk, a political newcomer ousted an experienced 16-year-incumbent in Kansas’ primary elections. Janet Paddock, R-Ottawa, defeated Shari Perry, R-Ottawa, in August’s election by claiming more than 70 percent of the county’s more than 4,300 votes.

In Franklin County’s closest race, Rick Howard, D-Williamsburg, unseated incumbent county commissioner Ed Taylor in the November election by only 69 votes to represent Franklin County District 2.

During her campaign, Paddock said professionalism and cooperation are traits she would bring to the Franklin County clerk’s office. Her passion to serve the public, as well as a need for more cooperation at the clerk’s office, Paddock, 35, said, are what drove her to begin a campaign against the office’s longtime incumbent.

“Cooperation among county departments [is important to me] — without cooperation, it is difficult to complete the statutory duties of the clerk’s office in a timely manner and maintain cost effectiveness for the taxpayers,” Paddock said.

A 10-year resident of Ottawa, Paddock is a wife and mother of three. Paddock said her experience in the private, small-business environment will help her transition into the clerk’s office.

Howard, a former Ottawa police officer, said during his campaign that his energy and motivation will enable him to bring new ideas to the board that can help the people of Franklin County. He said the role of a county commissioner involves representing the people of their district and effectively addressing any concerns that might be brought to the commission.

“I think it’s very important that you get out with the people in your district, find out what their concerns are, bring their concerns to the commission and work out their problems as best you can,” Howard said.

Improved graduation

On the education front, Ottawa High School boosters and alumni welcomed one of their own as the new principal. Ryan Cobbs, a longtime resident and OHS grad, took over as principal with the start of the new school year in July. Cobbs had served as the high school’s assistant principal for the past six years and has worked in the district for 11 years.

Cobbs said one of his focuses of the 2012-2013 school year is to improve the school’s graduation rate.

“We will be having discussions about increasing the school’s graduation rate and lowering the number of dropouts,” Cobbs said of his initial focus as principal. “I want to make sure students are on grade level as they move up through the years, and we’re not promoting kids who are lacking the foundation skills.”

Breaking records?

And OHS basketball fans are looking for the boys team to bring home a state basketball championship in 2013.

The team’s nine seniors, led by Semi Ojeleye, hope to propel the team to its fourth consecutive state title game and bring back the community’s second boys basketball state title. Ottawa won state in 1971.

Fans also would like to see Ojeleye, who recently signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Duke University, become the state’s all-time career scoring leader. He amassed 1,811 points through his junior season, and this season he needs 744 points to eclipse the mark of 2,554 set by Brewster’s Josh Reid (1993-96).

Ojeleye needs to average 28.6 points a game if Ottawa can advance to the state championship or consolation game or 32.3 points if Ottawa plays in the sub-state championship game to eclipse the record. The 6-foot-8 Ojeleye averaged 32 points per game last season.

Doug Carder is senior writer for The Herald. Email him at dcarder@ottawaherald.com

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