Proposed downtown Olathe apartments stir controversy, questions about Old Settlers’ future

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OLATHE, Kan. -- The city of Olathe has big plans to revitalize downtown and is offering incentives for private investors to do so.

A proposal has been approved by the Planning Committee and is on its way to the City Council, but some people say it's all moving way too fast.

Pamela Hall grew up in Olathe during the good old days of a vibrant downtown.

"I remember when we had shops and a theater and restaurants and all sorts of things to do downtown for people on Fridays and Saturdays," Hall said. "I mean it was packed."

The Downtown Revitalization Plan is a priority for the city of Olathe, and the Planning Commission believes a proposal by Milhaus Development to build 270 apartments fits into that plan.

The apartments would be built on two parking lots that are now home to the Old Settlers Festival.

"It definitely impacts Old Settlers, to what extent, we don't know yet," said Hall, the festival's arts and crafts director. "We are racking our brains to figure out if this goes through what we will do."

Business owners are also concerned about the loss of parking and prospect of people moving to a downtown that has little to offer.

"I don't think this is good for long-term downtown Olathe because we need more businesses and restaurants and retail and bars down here to attract people who might want to live in an apartment down here," said Willie Vader, owner of Vader's Bar and Deli. "So I think the cart is coming before the horse on this project."

Vader's Bar and Deli sits off of one of two parking lots that would be wiped out by the development.

"You can't duplicate this piece of land because of everything that is around it," Vader said. "Yes, I would like to be a bigger, better downtown, but to get businesses in there, to become something like Lee's Summit or Lawrence or the new Lenexa, we have to have parking, and that is absolutely crucial to attracting businesses here."

Tim Danneberg, spokesperson for the city of Olathe, said the city is unique with the government center downtown, which can be challenge in expanding the entertainment district.

"While being sensitive to downtown businesses needs, Olathe has been offering free land for years to incentivize developers with no takers," Dannegberg said. "The Milhaus plan is the first opportunity to bring critical mass downtown."

The ultimate decision about whether or not the project is a go lies with the City Council. Members have not seen the plan yet.

"I can just say that I am very excited about having a developer that is interested in investing in our downtown," City Councilman John Bacon said. "I am excited at the opportunity to get all of the input from the folks, weigh our decision and hopefully do what's best for downtown. This may not be the project but we will see."

The City Council will take up the matter Nov. 19. Public comments are welcome. The Olathe Redevelopment Plans can be found on the city's website.

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