More than two dozen Independence residents, business owners and others gave the National Park Service advice and comments on plans to move the Truman Home visitors center off the Square to a site across the street from the home itself.
Most favor the idea, but several strongly oppose it.
“The Harry S Truman National Historic Site brings tens of thousands of visitors a year to Independence, Mo.” writes Independence resident Joseph Gray, who worked at the home for 10 years. “If the National Park Service has a chance to enhance their experience … I think that makes sense to do so. By making this change, I see added economic benefit for Independence as well.”
“The loss of tourist traffic on the Square will strangle the restaurants and businesses there,” writes Pamela S. Workman of Independence. “Those restaurants and businesses make the Square a pleasant place to eat and shop.”
The Truman Home sits at Truman Road and Delaware Street, a few blocks west of the Square. It drew 45,000 visitors last year. The Park Service wants to buy the Higher Ground hotel across Delaware from the home and turn it into a visitors center. Visitors would get tickets there instead of five blocks away at the current Park Service office on Main Street. The new space also would have room to more fully tell the Truman Story. No final decision, timeline or cost have been announced.
The Park Service says many visitors go straight to the home and are annoyed – even discouraged from staying – when they find they have to go elsewhere for a ticket. Tours are given in groups of eight, and there’s frequently a lag between when a visitor picks up her ticket and when her tour starts, time tourists often spend dining or shopping on the Square.
“I have been operating here since 1999,” writes Ralph Goldsmith, whose mule-drawn wagons are popular with tourists and whose pickup point is practically in front of the Park Service office. “I can see first hand the amount of traffic that the Truman Home brings to the square. … I can tell you for sure that this will impact the merchants on the square.”
The Park Service took public comments on its plan for 45 days in June and July, and The Examiner requested the release of those comments. In all, 26 parties wrote or called. Fourteen expressed support, eight were opposed, and four offered comments and suggestions but no clear preference.
Several told the Park Service this is a no-brainer.
“It is an incredible opportunity for the NPS to acquire a building adjacent to the park that is almost tailor made for a visitor center, with adequate parking, access for visitors and staff with disabilities, and more space for museum exhibits and public programs,” writes James H. Williams.
And a handful downplayed the impact on the Square.
“While sympathetic to the concerns of merchants and their perceived loss of income, I strongly believe this anxiety is exaggerated and in reality any loss of business would be minimal or non-existent,” writes former Jackson County Superintendent of Historic Sites Gordon Julich. “The only convenient dining and shopping for Truman Home visitors will remain the Independence Square.”
But several see it differently.
“The relocation of the site would cause a severe drop in our number of customers, particularly during peak travel months. Over 60 percent of our summer sales are to tourists visiting the Square,” write William and Barbara Hart, who own The Keeping Room Antiques and Gateway Letter Jackets a couple doors down from the Park Service office.
State Rep. Rory Rowland, D-Independence, said the change “would drastically impact the financial revenue for the small business owners currently located on the square.”
“Tourists are a major source of revenue for the businesses on the Square, and moving the office has the potential of a devastating effect on the local retail stores, historic sites, and restaurants located near the ticket office,” writes Caitlin Eckard, executive director of the Jackson County Historical Society, whose offices are in the Truman Courthouse on the Square.
“It is not unusual for visitors to wait and hour or more for their designated tour time at the Truman Home,” she continues. “Many of them stroll the business district, spending money in shops, taking a covered wagon ride, or enjoying a meal or an ice cream treat while waiting for a tour …”
She asks if the Park Service has studied the economic impact of this move and says she has little doubt such a study would show that the downturn “for Square businesses would be huge.”
Some suggested a shuttle service between the home and Square, along with signs near the Truman Home to tell visitors about Square shops and restaurants. Several suggested selling Truman Home tickets elsewhere on the Square, and a couple specifically mentioned the “Visitor Experience Center” inside the Truman Courthouse. That idea was floated early this decade before the county renovated the building, but the Park Service didn’t go along.
One commenter -- Bill Naylor, a docent at the Truman Library for 21 years -- said many visitors were frustrated by the fact that tickets to the home aren’t sold at the library, let alone by having to go to the Square first. “I believe this discouraged many potential visitors,” he writes. (The home and library are run by separate federal agencies.)
Independence Mayor Eileen Weir offered what she called “a very reasonable compromise.”
She told the Park Service, “There will be an economic impact on the Square if this (the Park Service plan) takes place.”
She suggested allowing ticket sales at the Visitor Experience Center and/or at the Chamber of Commerce office on Truman just off the Square. Many tourists stop at the chamber looking for information.
“This will allow visitors to purchase tickets at two or more locations both near the home and on the Square thereby solving the concern of losing tourism activity downtown and solving the issue of visitors expecting to purchase tickets at the home,” she writes.
The public comments were forwarded to the Park Service regional office in Omaha and from there go to Washington, D.C., helping shape the final decision.