Now that the Downtown Redevelopment Coordinating Committee's has been presented to the Independence City Council, the big questions are what projects city officials ultimately will move forward and how those projects might be funded.
Among the top recommended priorities from the 10-member citizen committee: consider a civic center that would house city hall offices but also have private partnership and use; streetscape, pedestrian and bike path improvements around the Square and in the Englewood and Fairmount neighborhoods and at the Truman/Winner Road intersection; wayfinding signs and gateways; and moving forward with the National Frontier Trails Museum Master Plan and Truman Depot restoration.
The citizen group, chosen by the council, started meeting last October. It looked at 16 development plans from decades past, which included dozens of ideas, made site visits to Lee's Summit, Gladstone and Lenexa, Kansas, and culled together a couple dozen recommended projects, worth about $200 million overall, for the city to further consider.
About half of funds would come from state and federal grants and incentive district financing. General obligation bonds could also be used.
The council could adopt a resolution later this month based on the report.
For the purpose of his report, the city considered downtown to be bound by Noland Road on the east, Lexington and Pacific avenues to the south, Winner Road to the south and west and U.S. 24 to the north. It includes the Englewood, Fairmount, Maywood neighborhoods and the Square.
Sabin Yanez, of CFS Engineers that assisted the committee in developing the report, said Independence has an advantage over other cities he's worked with or that committee members visited because its “existing core and existing heritage areas.” A new civic center would need to be more than just a new city hall, he said.
“There are opportunities for private development that you can work closely with,” he said.
As others also emphasized later, Yanez said the report and recommendations aren't a to-do checklist, but rather a “roadmap of how to move forward.”
Council Member Karen DeLuccie said she appreciated the committee's work but right now is “a little gun-shy.” She said she'd want to see a full list of the city-owned buildings, parks and special taxing districts. Fixing up U.S. 24, including the flood-prone area in Fairmount, should be a high priority, she said.
“I don't know if we need a civic center, if we need a new park,” she said. “I'd like to have an inventory before we have a wish list.”
Council Member John Perkins said he prefers to look at the list as a guide to move forward, knowing that some city officials won't be in their current positions when some projects, such as in Fairmount, are fully completed.
“I want to leave a strong foundation for somebody else,” he said. “Also, it's not going to be a $200 million shot at once. That number freaks me out.”
Council Member Curt Dougherty, who chaired the committee, was not at Monday's meeting.
One point of interest was a recommendation to have discussions with the Arabia Steamboat Museum group, as that museum's lease in Kansas City expires in less than a decade and the museum could fit well with city's other heritage sites.
Committee member Trevor Tilton said he considered the group's efforts a “valid endeavor” to establish a unifying long-term goal. Some neighborhood groups have initiatives already happening he said, ad figuring out the implementation is the big question going forward.
“It's good to have a true north as far as a direction we're heading in,” he said. “We've had plan after plan after plan, and it's good to make sense of those plans and have a goal as a city.
“It's not an overnight deal, and it's not that everything is a has-to-happen.”
The committee recommended that the city form a specific, dedicated group for advancing the recommendations and develop a master plan of financing.