Layers of tax Incentives, a big investor and several small but insistent builders could bring about broad redevelopment along the city's main road.
A new hotel, water park, expansion of Boot Hill Museum and layers of development incentive programs are seen as a potential catalyst to reverse blight downtown and beyond, leading toward a new vision for downtown Dodge.
The goal is to create a triangle of development with a new hotel built by the Leisure group of companies and the Wright Park water park as a point south of Wyatt Earp Boulevard, said Bill Crandall of the CBC Real Estate group, the city's development consultant.
That axis would be bolstered by an expansion of Boot Hill Museum, potentially by funds diverted from the state's sales tax, and private reinvestment along Gunsmoke Street and Front Street with the help of property tax rebates.
"We're trying to emphasize this is one big tourism district with different component parts," Crandall said.
"We think those are good foundations, three legs of the stool if you will, that will help us build up more things," he said. The immediate focus is the hotel and water park, which the city announced it will try to have operational by May 2015.
"We've been working diligently for several years on this," Crandall said. "I know people are impatient for this, and so are we."
Architect Scott Slaggie showed renderings of ideal downtown Dodge City with a new Boot Hill Museum building along Front Street, stylish walking paths and a pedestrian overpass that would double as a "Welcome to Dodge City" sign connecting north and south "so when you arrive you know you've come into something special."
There's more to downtown than Boot Hill, Slaggie said, so "to make this a truly vibrant district we have to make sure all boats rise across the city." Each of the pieces would reinforce one another, but it would offer the opportunity to "manifest this into a world class museum" complete Front Street-facing commercial properties aesthetically consistent with renovated properties down Front Street to Central Avenue.
The drawings are very conceptual, Crandall said, but the job is to push what is in the direction of what could be. "This is sort of the dream right now."
But, "You've got a developer here who's been in your community for 30 years and wants to invest more in your community," Crandall said. "That is an awesome start, a nucleus, for extending tourism in Dodge City."
Commitment by big dollar investors like the Leisure group, which purchased its first hotel and built its first new hotel in Dodge City, could create the kind of anchor that makes other investors more comfortable with pursuing Dodge City ventures.
"We've had a good working experience in this community and we're hoping to do more," said Leisure Hotels CEO Steve Olson. Along with the hundred-plus room hotel, the group might go after building a restaurant in the vein of Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar & Grill."
Among the plans for the south side hotel is integration with the water park in some capacity and the creation of outdoor entertainment events in the area. The multi-company firm has significant experience building through public-private partnerships, he said, and "we understand problematic properties and how to fix them."
"My thought was 'Hey, I could build this hotel anywhere in town, but if you're going to build a water park in downtown, I want to be downtown," he said.
His vision is to create an outdoor entertainment venue, boutique shops and restaurants. Visitors are "going to want to walk and eat and shop."
There is understated optimism in the city and economic development corporation — the full realization of the concept as envisioned by Slaggie will likely take more than a single investor would be willing to risk, and many players will need to buy into the vision, development corporation director Joann Knight said.
The "combination of incentives and now development" should provide a powerful force for reversed blight along the city's main thoroughfare, she said.
"We've been trying for years to find an anchor down there," Knight said, to save the "heart of the city." Without new development, the historic buildings downtown and the low-density commercial activity along South Second Avenue and East Wyatt Earp would continue to decline.
The two commercial incentives packages that the city will seek approval from the other three local taxing authorities at the end of the month might be the right mix of "layered incentives" that will reverse the blight.
The proposed incentive districts also include empty lots as a kind of low-friction area for new development alongside renovation of old buildings. Easier, faster additions to the area's sales tax revenues might pay dividends as the public and non-profit portions, like the museum or fixing the troubled downtown services infrastructure, will rely on those private generators.
Investors follow success, Knight said, and she believes the mix of incentives and commitment will feed in to one another. It won't be overnight, she stresses, though things are moving faster than she expected.
"It's going to take years for the rest of that down there," she said, pointing to the most intensive section of incentive programs downtown. "But we need that anchor and I think the pool and the hotel will be that anchor."
There are signs of redevelopment by smaller investors as Michael and Liliana Zuniga are expanding their real estate holdings downtown, as is John Hawkins of Hawkins Investments, the owner of several row shops on the 300 block between Gunsmoke Street and Front Street.
Hawkins is also seeking to develop apartments on the second floor under the residential incentives program already in existence, the first of potentially several apartments overlooking the corridor. The Zunigas have expressed similar plans, but their immediate focus is on bottom floor commercial properties.
One issue that may become an issue are train whistles, which are audible at the furthest borders of the city, let alone two blocks from the proposed hotel and Gunsmoke Street apartments. Cities can apply to become "whistle free" zones by upgrading intersections and other changes, a possibility Knight said the development corporation will research.