Independence Mayor Eileen Weir had a pretty good observation the other day.
“The things that really energize this community, is when we have a project,” she said.
Of course, those can be big or little. I’m a fan of the annual litter pickup that she and others got going a couple years ago. The amount of cigarette butts on the streets and fast-food bags in the ditches is disgusting and distressing, and it’s encouraging to see people come out to make a dent in a problem that speaks to a community’s liveability.
Now the mayor says she has a couple ideas – one she calls big, one she calls small.
The small one is taking another run at a trolley service to connect what city leaders take as an expansive view of downtown Independence. That’s not just the Square (which some insist should be called “uptown,” and I get that). It also includes the Truman Library to the north, the Truman Home to the west, the National Frontier Trails Center and the nearby Truman Amtrak Depot to the south and southwest, and, yet farther west, commercial areas such as Englewood. Plus various historic sites within that large area.
The idea is that each of these has a tourism connection, and the community needs a way to get people around. Trolley service won’t make money, so a reasonably priced model would have to be worked out. City officials and others plan to look into it closely. Stay tuned.
A trolly isn’t the only idea. Officials continue to hope that trails will bring walkers and bicyclists. Weir wants to connect those greater downtown Independence sites and reach as far as the stadiums – which gets you on the soon-to-open Rock Island Trail, which one day should get you to the cross-state Katy Trail. It’s about giving people lots and lots of options – fun options, even. Think of that.
And this isn’t frivolous.
“Every successful community, they have a strong trail system,” said Tom Lesnak, president and CEO of the Independence Chamber of Commerce and president of the Independence Council for Economic Development. “… It’s an important piece we need to tackle.”
So the trolley is the easier of the mayor’s two ideas, right?
“My big idea,” she said, “is to buy the Englewood Theater.”
It’s a constant question and a recurring rumor. When is that wonderful old theater on Winner Road going to reopen? It’s been closed for years, and there seems to be no movement toward opening it.
Englewood has a lot going on, much of it centered on the arts.
“But our downtown’s not going to be great as long as that theater remains inactive,” Weir said.
It has a large screen. It can stage live events. It’s said to be in fairly good shape.
So, the mayor suggests, maybe Parks and Rec could run it.
The property would probably come with the old Ben Franklin store building next door. (Does anyone else really miss that old Ben Franklin like I do? Yeah? Thought so.) The site would need some TLC, and the project itself would need significant community buy-in. It would be a big investment. Weir suggests something like Project Shine, which the Independence School District does each summer to spiff up schools.
“The possibilities are endless,” City Manager Zach Walker said.
Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at 816-350-6365 or email@example.com.