Scott Knebel is a planner by trade, so his move into the role of point man for the city’s downtown redevelopment effort seems like a given.
Not necessarily, says the lifetime baseball fan and lover of challenges.
“It’s been more complex,” said Knebel, 43. “The challenges aren’t necessarily greater, but they’re difficult to determine the best approach and ideas for a solution, if there is one. Sometimes, it’s just the most ideal solution rather than the best solution.”
Knebel has spent his career with the city’s planning department, following his graduation 20 years ago from the Hugo Wall School of Government at Wichita State University.
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He’s a dedicated baseball lover, and he’s not afraid of a challenge there, either: He loves the Chicago Cubs.
“It’ll be interesting to see,” Knebel said about the Cubs. “I haven’t been paying much attention to the Cubs. Trying to get the Shockers to win some games.”
Q 1 How has the transition gone into the downtown coordinator’s role?
A “The nice thing about being a planner is we do plans, so we typically have our marching orders written down for us. The underlying philosophy and guidance is all in the Project Downtown master plan. If you look at that document, it really does have a series of implementation strategies that are prioritized.”
Q 2 What are some of the immediate downtown priorities you’re helping to implement?
A “The projects that are the highest priorities focus on the Douglas corridor, and trying to put in place a framework for the reinvigoration of that corridor. We’re doing the same thing from the arena to Old Town along the St. Francis corridor with the improvements on the old Coleman site and along St. Francis, and we’re working on the catalyst site redevelopments as well.”
Q 3 What are some of your “to do” projects downtown?
A “One of the things the manager and the mayor have their sights on and want to work on, which hasn’t happened as quickly, is the Union Station area, completing the connection between the arena and Old Town.
“A lot of that is the sheer scale of the project, the financial magnitude of it. The asking price for the property aside ($6 million), which is large in comparison to other sites, it’s just the tip of the iceberg in the magnitude of costs for the largest underutilized contiguous site downtown.
“Way back when we were talking numbers before Project Downtown was adopted, we were assuming it would cost between $50 million and $60 million to redevelop Union Station.”
Q 4 Evaluate downtown’s progress on individual projects in the first year post-Project Downtown.
A. “Assuming that Henry’s comes along, and we have no reason to believe that it won’t, we’re going to have a $50 million redevelopment (along Douglas between Broadway and Market), and that doesn’t happen every day.”
Q 5 How has the overall plan performed in its first year-plus?
A “In terms of the plan itself, we were estimating $500 million in private investment, $600 million with the public investment for infrastructure. That estimate was over 10 to 20 years, with 15 as the median.
“The numbers we’re looking at now in terms of private and public investment that’s already occurred downtown is in the $150 million range. That tells me that perhaps we were conservative in our estimates, and as much as we’ve done and as quickly as it’s happened, perhaps there’s more potential downtown than we realized.”