The flowers and murals downtown are a plus, so is the active business scene on North Summit. The college is a crown jewel.
But downtown signage is lacking, entrances signs are in disrepair, and parks seem to lack playground equipment.
These are some of the observations that outside residents made as part of a First Impressions program to help communities see themselves through the eyes of others.
Two communities, Arkansas City and Haysville recently participated in the program, each sending a delegation to explore each other’s community and report their observations back to the university.
The feedback from the Haysville delegation was presented Thursday at the Ark City water treatment plant by Nancy Daniels, extension specialist for K-State.
Pam Crain and Arty Hicks of Visit Ark City, Paisley Howerton, CEO of the Ark City chamber, and Nick Hernandez, city manager, comprised the Ark City delegation.
Daniels said the Haysville group was very impressed with the number of corporate stores and the high-level of activity in the north end of town.
She said they also observed that the welcome signs at the north and south entrances of town needed attention.
“They did not find signage on the east and west,” she said.
While visiting the downtown area, Daniels said the group reported that the trees covering store fronts made it difficult to identify businesses.
“There’s a tradeoff in everything,” she said. “It’s either shade or visibility.”
Daniels said the visitors liked the downtown music, and thought the maps and the listings of local events were good ideas, but said that the dates for the events also needed to be listed.
“They did love the murals downtown,” she said. “They said the flowers in the planters were nice and they saw them being maintained by city crews.”
Downtown parking was deemed adequate, which made it easy to visit the stores, Daniels said. The visitors were impressed with the local medical services, the hospital, the clinics and the long-term care services available.
“Everyone we spoke to had great things to say about the medical services and were surprised at how many pharmacies you’ve got,” she said.
Daniels said the delegates saw the community college as the crown jewel and were also impressed with the high school and middle school.
“The high school is lovely, but even more impressive is the signage,” she said. “That’s something to emulate.”
The group was also impressed with the number of churches and the many denominations represented, although some church buildings need attention. They admired the number of civic organizations and well-maintained parks and bike paths.
“I was surprised at their comments,” Daniels said. “They thought the parks were lacking in play equipment.”
City Hall is welcoming but the visitors suggested several improvements.
“They said once you got inside you could only guess what was inside every door, you had to just wonder the halls,” Daniels said.
The group also said that brochures and other forms of information about the community and its services and organizations should be available at the location.
Daniels said the group had great things to say about the chamber office. She said they found a well-stocked display of printed materials and found the staff to be friendly and helpful.
When asked about what would bring them back to Ark City, Daniels said the overwhelming response was Arkalalah and Etzanoa.
“They didn’t see shops and restaurants, nothing that would bring them back,” she said. “They were impressed with your national chain stores.”
The three visitors found Summit Street inviting and clean. Visitors praised the good highways, the attractive downtown and the school system.
“It has all the amenities of a big city, but maintains it’s small town feel,” one said.
Daniels said that the group also listed several challenges they see Ark City facing. One visitor said that the city appears to be locked into being the same as it was 100 years ago.
“The problems didn’t happen overnight, but with a little time they can make Ark City a bright spot again,” one said.
Another observed a lack of entertainment for younger people, and said it appears the population is aging and the community is losing those people ages 18 to 25.
“We have the same problem and no solutions,” they said.
Daniels said the visitors were asked to describe what they would remember most about the community six months from now.
“Six months from now, they would remember all the trees in the downtown area, the empty buildings that have a ton of potential,” she said. “They will also remember the beautiful downtown and their community spirit.”
Hernandez said that most of the comments back up the city’s thoughts about downtown, buildings, and recreational opportunities. He said it brought verification to most of their concerns.
“It’s nice to have an outside perspective, locals can tell you what they think is an issue, but sometimes it’s better to hear from someone outside,” he said.
Hicks said he thought the observations were fair.
“They brought up things that we already have things in place trying to counteract,” he said.
Crain agreed. She thought their report was very accurate and nothing in it surprised her.
“I was happy that they had a positive experience and ran into friendly people, and the overall experience was a positive one,” she said.