Downtown Topeka business owners get sneak peek of new Evergy Plaza

The Topeka Capital-Journal

Sporting hard hats and yellow safety vests, about a half-dozen downtown business owners on Thursday morning got a behind-the-scenes look at progress on the new outdoor Evergy Plaza going up in the 600 block of S. Kansas Avenue.

Those on the tour heard about water fountains that will be synchronized to lights and music, capable of spraying up to 30 feet in the air; a 30-foot video board that can serve as a site for watch parties for sporting events; a large fire pit; a stage for musical performances; and other spots with trees and plants where individuals can gather for lunch. A portable ice skating rink is slated to be placed at the plaza from around November to early March each year.

Besides being used for shows with lights and music, the fountains also can be turned down and used as a spray park for children.

Alicia VanWalleghem, owner of Leaping Llamas Artisan Shop at 725 S. Kansas Ave., said she was thrilled with the progress being made and the potential for what the Evergy Plaza can do for downtown Topeka.

“I think it’ll be a game changer for downtown Topeka,” VanWalleghem said after the tour. “I had high expectations, and this exceeded them.”

Those on the walking tour, which lasted about 45 minutes, heard about the project from Zach Snethen, of HTK Architects; Kelly Foster, of the MCP Group, which is the general contractor for the project; and Kurt Young, executive director of the Topeka Lodging Association and board member of the Downtown Topeka Foundation, which owns the plaza.

The project’s estimated cost is about $9.6 million. It is currently under construction in a 1-acre site on the northeast corner of 7th and S. Kansas Avenue. Several buildings were razed to make way for the plaza.

Foster said the plaza is still on pace to open about three months from now in March 2020.

However, Young said, that time frame is for a “soft opening,” with the official grand opening set for a date when the weather is warmer so the fountains can be used to full effect.

Young said a major event already is slated for April at the venue. However, Young wouldn’t disclose the nature of the event, saying that announcement would need to come from Spectra Management, which will oversee the plaza’s operations.

Spectra also manages the Stormont Vail Events Center, near S.W. 19th and Topeka Boulevard, which itself is undergoing a $48 million renovation. Young said he was hopeful there would be “a lot of synergy” between the Stormont Vail Events Center and Evergy Plaza as Spectra manages both.

Young said cities across the country are hearing about Evergy Plaza and have been in touch with him to see how the project came together.

Young noted that funding came primarily through private donations, with major gifts being supplied by Capitol Federal Savings Bank and the Evergy power company. Stormont Vail Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas also contributed sizable gifts. Additional funding came from transient guest taxes and a Tourism Improvement District supported by the Topeka Lodging Association, which will be used to pay for fees and annual operating costs of the plaza.

Young noted that while S.E. 7th between Kansas Avenue and Quincy will remain open, it can be closed off for special events at Evergy Plaza. The 600 block of S. Kansas Avenue also can be blocked off for larger events, he said.

Additionally, Young said, six large electrical boxes have been installed for food trucks, eliminating the need for generators at the plaza.

Young said a grassy area at the plaza’s north end would be used for a small park at first, with the possibility of leasing the space or developing it at a later date.

The plaza is designed as a free community space. As such, officials said, it will be home to about 250 events a year.

Much of the preliminary work on the plaza was done below ground. Snethen noted “miles and miles” of electrical conduit had to be installed. Additionally, a reservoir holding about 10,000 gallons of water and a pumping station had to be built for the fountains.

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