New jobs. New homes. This year has had setbacks and successes, but the basics of a solid economy moved right ahead.
Consider the example of housing. Homebuilders gave Blue Springs one of the best years for any city in the area. Traditionally four cities – Kansas City, Overland Park, Olathe and Lee’s Summit – lead area in construction of single-family homes, while Independence and Blue Springs bounce in and out of the top 10.
Not this year.
Blue Springs started fast and never slowed, even as the rest of the metro area outside Eastern Jackson County did. Final figures for 2018 won’t be out for a few weeks, but Blue Springs was at No. 3 in the metro through October with 351 homes – more than double the pace the of 2017. Independence and Grain Valley also were up sharply.
Early in the year, Blue Springs officials announced the coming of a Faurecia auto parts plant.
The initial promise was that the plant on the city’s east side north of Interstate 70 would create 250 to 300 skilled and semi-skilled jobs making door panels, center consoles and instrument panels, with an average pay of $40,000 a year.
The deal also came with a significant boost from the taxpayers. The city abated $69 million in taxes over 10 years and issued $69 million in bonds that the company is to repay over 10 years.
Other cities, including Independence, had been in the running for the plant.
• After years of hopes and planning, a major grocery store – Price Chopper – opened in Grain Valley. City officials hope that will encourage further development in the area north of Interstate 70 and east of Main Street.
• Independence Center, one of just two enclosed malls left in the metro area, passed into the hands of a new operator in February. Pacific Capital Retail Partners took over from the Simon Property Group, which had owned and run the mall for years. Pacific Capital promised to invest in the property and bring a different mix of stores, probably meaning fewer apparel retailers and possibly more “experiential” attractions, in keeping with the nationwide trend.
Independence Center did make it through the year escaping one huge problem. Sears announced round after round of store closures, but at year’s end the Sears at the mall – one of three anchors there and the only remaining Sears in the Kansas City area – remained open.
• Independence opened the $3.3 million “Independence Uptown Market,” the new home of the twice-a-week farmers market as well as other community events. It’s on Truman Road on the north edge of the Independence Square, and community leaders have said it’s one more important piece of the Square’s renewed vibrance.
New in school
Three Independence high schools – Van Horn, Truman and William Chrisman – all got significant facelifts thanks to bonds approved by voters in 2017. The most extensive improvements were at Van Horn, which has seen a remarkable turnaround in its 10 years in the Independence School District.
Renovations and expansions at Grain Valley High School continued as well, and a new freshman wing at Blue Springs South High School is under construction as part of a bond issue approved by that district’s voters.
Paying the light bill
Independence opened a second solar farm, this one on the west side of the city, as it tries to rely more on renewable energy sources. Officials also struggled with a range of complex electric utility issues, delaying decisions on possible money-saving “smart meters” and closing the seldom-used power plant on Truman Road. Problems with a new billing system rollout starting in May coincided with higher-than-expected bills for many ratepayers. The City Council did order a 2 percent rate cut late in the year – with the expectation of more to come.
Coming and going
Familiar names in food and retailing came and went. The last Eastern Jackson County Winstead’s, in Blue Springs, closed. Independence got a Jack-in-the-Box, Lutfi’s Fried Fish and Lion’s Choice, and Blue Springs got an IHOP. The area’s last Kmart, in Susquehanna, closed.
Coming in 2019
Many long-term projects continued, and others are planned:
• Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence continues with its $60 million expansion that’s already included a new and larger emergency room.
• The new Blue Springs City Hall is coming in the spring.
• The Mid-Continent Public Library system continues its overhauls and expansion. The renovated Blue Springs South branch reopened in December, and an added community space at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence is coming in the spring.
• Cassell Park Elementary on Hardy Avenue in western Independence opens in the fall.
• The Truman Library in Independence, a major draw for tourists, is expected to close late in the spring for several months for a $22 million expansion and renovation.