143 years ago, Frank Playter, John Sargent, E.R. Moffett, and E.H. Brown came to an agreement: they mapped out four, 40-acre sections stretching eight blocks north to south and eight blocks east to west on the prairie of Southeast Kansas. The four men shared a vision: a new city would prosper.

Today, their intersection looks very different: it’s home to Block22TM, an innovative project by Pittsburg State, the City of Pittsburg, and the Vecino Group, who, like the founders, envision a city that will prosper.

In Playter’s day, the sections would share corners and would be the hub of a loading place for a railroad built between Joplin, Mo., 28 miles to the southeast, and Girard, Kan., 16 miles to the northwest, to carry lead, zinc, and coal.

On the southwest corner, now the site of the Wheeler & Mitchelson Law Firm, Playter built a general store. On the northwest corner, Sargent erected a small frame building for a drug store.

The two arterial streets that intersected at the four corners became known as Fourth Street and Broadway.

Today, the intersection is anchored by the Commerce Building and the Baxter Building on the northwest corner and on the northeast corner, the National Bank Building and the Opera House Hotel, brought back to life in 2018 after having fallen into disrepair and being shuttered for years.

Fresh paint and new windows gleam.

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Unique, mixed-use living, learning, working, dining, and gathering spaces attract students, entrepreneurs, and community members.

It combines nearly 100 units of Pittsburg State student housing with more than 16,000 square feet of innovation space. There’s a coffee shop, where people of all ages gather. And this spring, the newest component will open: three restaurants, each operated by Pittsburg State alumni.

Living there

Juliana Cook is among the 90 residents who call Block22TM “home.”

“When I heard about Block22, I immediately found out everything about it and how I could live there,” said Cook. “After reading and talking to others involved in Block22, I knew right away this where I wanted to spend my last year at Pitt State.”

Since August, the nursing major from Shawnee, Kan., has lived in the corner unit on the third floor of what’s now known as the Commerce Building. It’s been the highlight of her senior year, she said.

“I picked the biggest available unit because I knew it would be worth it,” she said.

Her favorite part? The windows.

Within the historic corridors of the buildings that comprise Block22 are 97 modern, urban-style apartments for PSU students. Each is individualized and boasts the name of a real-life early Pittsburg business or business owner on the front door.

Within the historic corridors of the buildings that comprise Block22 are 97 modern, urban-style apartments for PSU students. Each is individualized and boasts the name of a real-life early Pittsburg business or business owner on the front door.“The windows,” she said.

She has six total and the view is split: half look out onto Fourth and Broadway, and the other half face northwest Pittsburg.

“The coolest parts are the historical features,” Cook said.

Among them: black and white photographs in the hallways and stenciled names of former businesses on interior glass door windows.

“Those names are my favorite part, because I get to learn about what kind of businesses were once here and how important small businesses are to keep around,” she said.

Playter, Moffett, Sargent, and Brown would be proud.

And people like Brandee Johnson (BBA ’01), owner and president of the start-up digital marketing agency LimeLight Marketing, are inspired.

LimeLight is one of six businesses that occupy the first floor of the National Bank Building in a co-working space called The Foundry.

Also there are Creative124, DevSquared, Helianthus Ventures, Votive Packaging and Solutions, and Root Coffeehouse & Creperie. Sonder & Co. will open soon.

“The essence of Block22 being a space that fosters growth, innovation, and economic development feels like a natural and perfect fit with our culture and values at LimeLight. That’s what attracts us to this space,” Johnson said. “We are excited to be part of Block22 because I feel that the atmosphere in this space fosters collaboration, creativity, and innovation.”

Working there

It is in that National Bank Building that Gerard Eck, a junior from Colwich, Kan., who is dual majoring in Finance and Business Economics, spends much of his time when not in class: he’s one of the first students to be employed at Block22 in University Strategic Initiatives — the PSU office that oversees the Block22 initiative.

Located on the ground floors of the National Bank and Opera House Hotel buildings, The Foundry component of Block22 includes a popular gathering spot for all ages, Root Coffeehouse & Creperie. It is owned by PSU alumni Lindsey Kling (BA ’10) and Taylor Whiteley (BA ’16).

Located on the ground floors of the National Bank and Opera House Hotel buildings, The Foundry component of Block22 includes a popular gathering spot for all ages, Root Coffeehouse & Creperie. It is owned by PSU alumni Lindsey Kling (BA ’10) and Taylor Whiteley (BA ’16).

“I wanted to work at Block22 because I found the project exciting and important to both the city and the school,” said Eck. “Everyone is excited about the new place.”

His job includes secretarial duties as well as working closely with EnterprisePSU to provide reporting and research services.

“I enjoy being so close to a good cup of coffee and the variety of businesses in The Foundry,” he said. “There is a lot of stuff going on that I previously didn’t know anything about, and everything is interesting!”

Like Cook, he finds the history of the place the “coolest part.”

“To be in such a unique combination of historical and future business is surreal at times,” he said. “At The Foundry, we hear all the time guests who say, ‘I worked right upstairs’ or, ‘My father had his office here for a number of years.’ To be able to connect with those guests and show them the new building is always a great experience.”

“Home”

For both Cook and Eck, the experience has strengthened their connection to Pittsburg.

“As a freshman, I didn’t do a very good job of getting involved,” Eck said. “That resulted in a tough year, and I knew there was more that the school had to offer. Getting involved on campus and in the community has made me love and appreciate not only the school, but the entire area that I live in. There is so much history and endless connections in Pittsburg, and I am proud to say I am a Gorilla.”

The initiative has earned national recognition. It includes The Foundry — home to a variety of innovative, creative teams, including PSU’s University Strategic Initiatives, a maker/hacker space, business incubator, co-working space, conference rooms, and a large meeting space that can be used by PSU and community groups alike. A Gus Bus connects Block22 and the PSU campus, making a roundtrip in 10 to 15 minutes. Three restaurants will open this spring.

The initiative has earned national recognition. It includes The Foundry — home to a variety of innovative, creative teams, including PSU’s University Strategic Initiatives, a maker/hacker space, business incubator, co-working space, conference rooms, and a large meeting space that can be used by PSU and community groups alike. A Gus Bus connects Block22 and the PSU campus, making a roundtrip in 10 to 15 minutes. Three restaurants will open this spring.

Each day, Cook drives from Block22 to the McPherson Hall, the Nursing building — about a 5-minute commute. She enjoys her time on campus, but finds a change of scenery downtown “refreshing.”

“I like having a change of scenery with study time at Root Coffeehouse, and if I want soup and a sandwich on a cold day, you’ll find me at Signet with all their homemade goodies,” she said. If she’s restless or needs a spontaneous last-minute outfit, she heads to the nearby boutiques.

“They have everything I need,” she said. “The convenience of Block22 being downtown is the ability to just walk to wherever I need to go.”

“Block22 provides my own space in which I can sleep, relax, and study — all in one area. I’ve made friends with other residents on my floor, and I’d have to say it’s pretty great to have friends just down the hall for either a girls’ night or a group/family dinner,” she said. “Calling Block22 ‘home’ feels amazing.”