By Jeff Fox
Elected leaders in Independence gave a generally upbeat review of issues and developments in the city on Friday.
Mayor Don Reimal mentioned the completion of the Little Blue Parkway this year and the soon-to-come Stoney Creek Inn, a 166-room hotel and conference center next to Bass Pro Shops. He mentioned a couple of companies that have moved to town, including Continental Siding, bringing jobs here from Virginia.
“So we’re bringing in some stuff from out of town,” he said at an Independence Chamber of Commerce briefing.
Officials made no major announcements but gave updates on several projects:
• Council Member Marcie Gragg, who represents the 1st District in the northwest part of the city, mentioned two clinics under construction: the 8,000-square-foot Truman Medical Centers clinic on U.S. 24 in Fairmount and the 10,000-square-foot Swope Community Center on Truman Road just east of Sterling.
“We’re very grateful to have both of the health-care facilities to provide care to our seniors, and families, in northwest Independence,” she said.
• Council Member Eileen Weir, who represents the 4th District in the southwest part of the city, mentioned that the Burlington Coat Factory, at U.S. 40 and Blue Ridge Boulevard on the site of the old Blue Ridge Cinema East, opens in a few weeks.
“So it’s been very exciting to see the redevelopment of that Blue Ridge Crossing site,” she said, adding that she expects other businesses, such as restaurants, to open there as well.
• At-large Council Member Chris Whiting mentioned plans announced this summer for a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market at the site of the current Gaslight Square at 35th Street and Noland Road.
“It’s going to end up being a good thing for that part of town,” he said.
• Sometimes, at-large Council Member Jim Schultz said, it’s the small things that make a difference. Not long ago, it seemed every busy intersection in town was plagued with unsightly signs – often of the “We Buy Junk Homes” variety – taped on utility poles and elsewhere.
The city decided to crack down on that. So far in 2013, more than 1,000 of those signs have been removed, and chronic offenders get tickets. There have been 126 tickets – and so far 109 convictions – this year, he said.
Schultz said the city’s brightest hopes for the future lay in the Harmony development on the east side of the city. In 25 years, officials project, there would be 15,000 homes and 50,000 new residents – a huge change for a city of 117,000.
“It’s kind of like a mini-city within a big city,” he said.
Drawing from what’s called “new urbanism,” the idea is to create a walkable community, with old-fashioned front porches, and homes closer to the sidewalk to “get back to the quality of life we sort of miss when we don’t get out and meet our neighbors,” he said.
The first phase, New Town at Harmony, gets under way this year with the aim of 50 homes by the end of 2014. The plan is for 500 to 750 homes, a school, a post office and shops. There would even be a series of small lakes, connected by small canals, so canoeists or kayayers could get around. Hiking and biking trails would tie into the Little Blue Trace Trail, which one day planners hope to connect to the cross-state Katy Trail.
“This is a big deal,” he said.
Other city updates:
• Mayor Reimal said the city is requesting $18 million in grants for $23 million in safety improvements on Missouri 7 on the city’s east side.
“And as soon as the federal government gets a highway bill passed, maybe we can get some money,” he said.
• Weir said she’s spoken with the YMCA, which abruptly closed its Independence facility earlier this year. She said the community still needs its services, such as youth sports leagues and day care.
“I really feel strongly that’s not a service that can be replicated by the city or the school district,” she said.
She mentioned the city’s facilities on the north side of the city such the Palmer Center and the Sermon Center and noted that the Henley Aquatic Center at Bridger Middle School has extended its hours.
“But it’s a long way from southwest Independence,” she said.
• Plans to improve the appearance of Noland Road are still being drawn up.
“Noland is really the front door to Independence,” Whiting said.
• The widening of 35th Street from Crysler to just west of Noland is on schedule to be done by late this year.
“That will be a very nice improvement for that part of the city,” Weir said.
• Weir also said the city needs to look broadly at economic development issues. It would be good, she said, to get startup companies at the Independence Ennovation Center to move out into the community. Also, the city needs more housing for such people as young professionals and empty nesters.
“And I think there’s a niche there that we’re missing,” she said.
• Gragg mentioned the plans the city has announced to expand the National Frontier Trails Museum at Osage and Sea and connect that area more visibly with the Square a few blocks to the north.
“That’s one of the historic sites that a lot of people in Independence don’t know exists,” she said.