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Hillsboro mayor candidates discuss alcohol, downtown

Staff writer

A bearded and long-haired Tabor College student dressed in a plaid shirt, jeans, boots, and an old hat asked the final question Thursday in Hillsboro’s mayoral candidate forum.

Both candidates, Lou Thurston and Charlotte Kennedy Takahashi, had expressed a desire for Hillsboro to be more like Lindsborg in channeling cultural heritage into economic gain and a stronger community bond.

The student referenced a Swedish-style sports bar, asking why Hillsboro does not have a flourishing German-style sports bar and grill.

“That’s a very touchy subject in Hillsboro because it generates some really strong emotions,” Thurston said. “We need to see where we stand on that.”

He said change may be coming.

“We’re going to have to understand generational changes and we need to look at those kind of things,” Thurston said. “I could see someday a microbrewery in Hillsboro, don’t strike me down.”

Thurston said a Hillsboro hotel begged the economic development corporation to get an establishment that serves alcohol because they were losing business to McPherson and Newton.

“People that were coming in to stay didn’t have a place to get that in Hillsboro,” Thurston said. “Our group of local restaurants stepped up to that, but I can tell you at the time it was extremely controversial. There are still people that will not sit in that side of the restaurant.”

Kennedy Takahashi said serving alcohol is important to restaurants generating a profit.

“This is a very sensitive issue in this town,” Kennedy Takahashi said. “Yet I look at it from the point of view if you are drinking age, it would be better for you to drink in Hillsboro than drink in Newton and drive home drunk.”

A full-service “destination” restaurant was a talking point of both candidates earlier in the forum. Kennedy Takahashi said she already has a business plan and restaurant concept to build one herself, but a low profit margin holds her back, in part due to assuming no alcohol would be served.

Earlier, Thurston said he wants a full-service restaurant downtown.

“You need a place where you can get a piece of pie and a cup of coffee at night,” Thurston said. “We really need a restaurant down on Main St., a full-service restaurant that complements our businesses on Main St. but also helps with tourism.”

Kennedy Takahashi said she thinks her family built about one-third to one-half of the buildings downtown in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But when asked about revitalizing empty buildings downtown, she said she wants to tear them down and replace them with housing and retail space.

“I do have a dream for downtown, and again, it’s not a promise, but I think we should tear down one-fourth of downtown and we should build a really nice building,” Kennedy Takahashi said. “Make it condos and put some shops in it and services in it that support the whole community. I would like to see downtown be our heart again.”

She said Hillsboro should avoid moving all of its businesses to the industrial park area.

“I think it’s dangerous to put all our businesses on the highway, because we have so many elderly people, and all the car accidents out there,” she said.

Businesswise, Thurston lauded Hillsboro Development Corporation as the town’s economic development engine. He cited successes in attracting new businesses and local expansions to replace others that left, including Dollar General expanding and Wendy’s coming in after Walmart and McDonald’s left.

Kennedy Takahashi said her students at Tabor have the wrong idea when developing business plans.

“All my students wanted to do business in Hillsboro and sell to Hillsboro customers,” Kennedy Takahashi said. “You know where the money is, the money is doing something here in Hillsboro that has value to people all over.”

Thurston said Hillsboro needs to figure out how to capitalize on a wind farm project in the northwest part of the county. He said about 700 people will need temporary housing during project construction, which afterward will generate 15 full-time positions.

Cultural inclusion

Both candidates expressed a desire to preserve Hillsboro’s heritage when asked.

Thurston said he wants to use the museum as a tourist attraction.

“We need to bring in buses, we need to bring people in Hillsboro to support that,” he said.

Kennedy Takahashi, who was a history student when she attended Tabor, said all cultures should be celebrated.

“I like to remind people that the culture of this town is just not Mennonite,” she said. “My family built the second house in this town, and they were not Mennonites. They helped to form the German Baptist Church, even though they were Orthodox coming from Romania. There’s High German; there’s Low German, there are a variety of cultures here.”

Lindsborg was the focus of another question on how to develop community spirit.

“We need to go out to the community and see what do you guys want,” Thurston said. “Do you want to be that type of community or don’t we? If we do, what does that look like?”

Thurston said Hillsboro is based on German roots.

“We need to expand beyond those roots and understand that we’re a much more inclusive, much more diverse community than we used to be,” he said. “We need to figure out how to engage other people with other cultures and other heritage into that culture of Hillboro.”

But Kennedy Takahashi earlier said Hillsboro is not inclusive.

“This is what people have been telling me, they feel discriminated against in Hillsboro,” she said. “They feel that there is discrimination against them because they don’t go to church, or they feel there’s discrimination because they’re in a profession that is not what the elites of this town are in. They feel that there’s economic discrimination.”

She said only one-third to one-half of Hillsboro residents attend church now, even though it was almost everyone when she was in high school. She said some people have told her they plan to leave because they do not feel welcome and feel discriminated against.

“They feel like they are left out of the process,” Kennedy Takahashi said. “I think this town really needs to look into itself as to who it is, but I think the problem is how can we build community beyond the churches?”

Last modified Oct. 18, 2017

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