providing a great quality of life
Putting its residents first, Augusta, Kansas retains a close-knit community while welcoming continued growth
Situated on the edge of the majestic Kansas grasslands, Augusta, Kansas, is a city that blends the modern world with the serenity of its surroundings. The city offers a cosmopolitan mixture of recreation, commerce, and culture.
The city of Augusta wants to emphasize a blend of history and creating public spaces, along with life and play. Another zone the city has focused on is the downtown area, called the Red Brick district, which is filled with up-and-coming retail outlets and entertainment hubs.
“We are invested in making the Red Brick District a fantastic place. There are now 30 to 35 new businesses that have opened in the city over the last few years,” says Josh Shaw, City Manager of Augusta, Kansas.
Many visitors to the city don’t realize that Augusta is a lake community with two lakes spanning between 160 – 200 acres. Augusta Lake is situated within the city limits, which offers residents access to 4.4 miles of shoreline with parks and playgrounds dotted around it.
City management would like to encourage some housing developments around the lake and is developing multiple outdoor attractions.
The residents of Augusta love taking in the great outdoors. A large project on the go is connecting the city’s trails to the Redbud Rail Trail system, that, when completed, will connect Augusta to the cities of Andover and Wichita, which are the area’s major metros.
“Being able to access these areas without a car will be great. It fits into our new vision and also focuses on the community and their quality of life,” says Shaw.
The downtown development and main street initiatives fall under the Go Augusta Main Street Initiative. So far, the team has produced compelling packages of developments that have resulted in numerous successes.
Augusta is sandwiched between two rivers, which in turn, limits the space that the city has at its disposal. This has meant the city has focused on density and redeveloping its assets, including many historical buildings.
Restoring the facades of buildings can be a costly venture, and the city understands this, so they’ve made sure to include those costs in the new redevelopment strategy.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen local business owners and the city being more active in pursuing grant opportunities to fund the restoration of these buildings, updating and rehabilitating them,” says Shaw.
The bowling alley in the downtown district is also taking the same journey, sourcing old-style equipment to ensure that it is historically accurate. This restorative element is a focus of the city, and management wants to ensure that they don’t create museum pieces but rather establishments that preserve a way of life.
“The City of Augusta is working on regulatory changes that focus on core elements, staying true to the property’s aesthetic, but not going so far that business owners can’t breathe. It’s better to preserve these spaces with life,” says Shaw.
Taking a more flexible approach, the city is allowing owners with historical building facades to ensure that they meet the spirit or intent of the elements rather than just choosing a single color and design.
Augusta is in the planning stages for and actively working on infrastructure projects worth $65 million. The city worked aggressively to secure these grants and funding. In the last few years, the city has secured roughly $21 million in grants for the community.
This capital is for transportation, infrastructure projects, and more. The funding is going to several projects. One grant was for the aforementioned Red Bud Rail Trail Project. The trail requires two major infrastructure projects to be completed; two bridges to connect the trail, one over a highway and the other over a river.
These bridges require funding of around $9 million. The bridge over the highway has $3.3 million secured in funding already. The city is working through submittals to secure funding for the second bridge, which the city is committed to starting in 2024.
Street improvement projects in the city have been allotted $4 million, which will be used to wind down work on one of the major arterial roads, and included in the funding is a street preservation project over the city. Recently, a grant was received for highway work and an overpass.
The next project is the reconstruction and extension of the runway at the local general aviation airport. It is a busy airport, and it has taken over 15 years to secure the funding. The project is estimated to cost $11 million, and the grant was provided by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).
Augusta is also looking to address the significant gaps in its electrical infrastructure with a $4 million grant that will be used to build up the capacity to serve existing businesses as well as new ones. In general, ensuring it is more reliable. This electrical project is 100% grant funded.
The city is planning on building a new substation, a new transmission line, and a new theater for the industrial park. The development is being constructed so that major employers get access to consistent electricity.
“Anything we can do to make our electrical system more reliable and carry a higher capacity feed is a massive win for the community,” says Shaw.
Augusta is also undertaking a new residential subdivision, the first in 20 years. The project got started via a creative financing strategy that utilizes a moderate-income housing grant in conjunction with an inducement tool called the Rural Housing Incentive.
The city is partnering with a development team to offer houses at more affordable prices. “The developer is taking on the responsibility and the cost of building all the infrastructure, and they’re utilizing those grants to pass on the savings to the homeowners,” says Shaw.
Augusta is blessed to have numerous large employers. The primary employer in the city is DJ Engineering which employs around 350 staff members. The school district and the government are also large employers, with VSE Aviation coming in as the fourth largest employer in the city.
DJ Engineering fits into a niche part of the aerospace industry, with the company active in space and rocket development, assisting with the Artemis Moon Mission. The company is one of the top 500 government suppliers for the Department of Defense. The company offers full-service facilities in engineering development.
Sigma-Tek is another aviation in the city company that focuses on developing aircraft instruments. Also located in Augusta is Patterson Racing, which produces custom engines.
On a slightly different note, the city recently redeveloped an old district school into a community center called the Robinson Wellness Center.
Before the housing crash of 2008, the school district developed new schools within the area alongside new residential homes. But the financial crisis meant no one bought the houses.
In turn, residents who live in the area now don’t want to move, and the schools have a poor attendance rate. So, rather than allowing for the oldest school to be knocked down, the school district partnered with several local non-profits that required space and created the Augusta Community Caring Center, which forms a part of the Robinson Wellness Center.
While the city wasn’t involved, it is pleased by the story’s outcome, which might otherwise have had a sad ending. Another positive story surrounding the Robinson Wellness Center is when the YMCA from the neighboring city of Andover was destroyed by a tornado, which also housed a daycare center; the community of Augusta was able to offer space until the Andover facilities were rebuilt.
“We have great buildings that can be redeveloped and utilized for many other purposes. Our community can quickly shift to a plan B, C, or D regarding redeveloped spaces. We don’t rest on our laurels. We redevelop, reuse, and innovate these spaces,” says Shaw.
A partnership that the city is proud of is the Go Augusta. This is a combination of Augusta Main Street and Augusta Downtown organizations, and in what is believed to be a first, has taken over the Chamber of Commerce. Go Augusta is looking to apply the four-point strategy of the downtown area across the city.
Described as an experiment, the results have spoken for themselves, with the organization getting even more volunteer participation than before. Getting this input, especially from local business owners, has meant the city can move forward.
“I think our best relationship is to figure out how the city can step back and facilitate them, to make it easier for those champions and business interests,” says Shaw.
Another organization the city works with is Augusta Progress Inc (API). API focuses on housing and larger industrial projects.
Moving into the future, city planners are excited by all the planning in the pipeline, with some being worked on for over ten years, with arguably one of the most significant quality-of-life projects nearing completion, the Red Bud Rail Trail Project.
But at the root of it all, the city’s management team has done all this work to ensure that Augusta is a family-friendly environment that offers the best quality of life and public spaces while preserving what they have.
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AT A GLANCE
What: A growing city welcoming new business while keeping its small-town charms
Where: Butler County, Kansas, US
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