New and renovated buildings and a murky-at-best situation involving buildings around the county made for some of the most notable stories in 2019 in Eastern Jackson County.
New owner for mall: International Growth Properties purchased Independence Center in February for a reported $57 million. IGP, based in Los Angeles, purchased from a bank that secured the loan of longtime prior owner Simon Properties. It has a small but nationwide portfolio of shopping centers.
One of the mall's longtime anchor tenants, Sears, closed several months later among the latest round of closings by the former retail giant.
Durvet expands: Durvet, the veterinary products company that’s been in Blue Springs for many years, is in the midst of a 54,000-square foot expansion. The company's facility will be about 130,000 square feet when the $6.5 million project is complete.
Smart meters: After a City Council majority vote in April approved a contract for “smart meters,” Independence citizens gathered more than 5,000 signatures in a month to put the matter to a public vote, hoping to nix the utility metering project. The council accepted the petition, prohibiting smart meter consideration for at least a year.
Simultaneously, a recall attempt against Independence Mayor Eileen Weir did not gain half the necessary signatures to get on the ballot.
Park upgrade: Burrus Old Mill Park in Blue Springs got a $3 million renovation, with more than 40 water features, including a splash pad, a jungle-themed playground, a basketball court, shelters and skate park.
County assessments: Jackson County's property tax assessment this year left many property owners facing substantially higher assessments – and in some cases, higher tax bills. Citizens and officials have complained that the assessments are unfair and in some cases flat wrong. Some residents said they fear being taxed out of their homes. This consternation led to, among other things, litigation, a state legislature special committee and thousands of informal appeals of new property values.
Halfway house in Blue Summit: County legislators in March approved rezoning to allow KADO Partners to renovate the run-down Stark School building on Blue Ridge Boulevard into a halfway house for non-violent federal prisoners. KADO said in March it plans to open the facility in two years and house up to 130 inmates.
Along with the halfway house, county officials have taken some renewed interest this year with issues in Blue Summit, the unincorporated area between Independence and Kansas City.
Truman Library renovation: The Harry S. Truman Library & Museum closed in July for a renovation that will last more than a year. When the library reopens (still scheduled for September 2020), the main entrance will have been moved to the east side, with all permanent exhibits on the ground level. The Truman Library Institute has raised $28 million for the renovation, with a goal of $30 million.
Separately but simultaneously, the Missouri Department of Transportation is replacing the U.S. 24 bridge over Bess Truman Parkway in front of the library. Traffic has been diverted along the exit and entrance ramps, and officials plan to re-open the bridge in the spring of 2020.
New elementary: Cassell Park, the 20th elementary school in the Independence School District, opened for summer school and welcomed its first regular student body in August. The school, which can accommodate 500 to 550 students, marks the highlight of the $38 million bond issue district voters handily approved in 2017 and indicates the young population growth in recent years on Independence's west side.
Mid-Continent renovations: Mid-Continent Public Library continued with its multi-year, systemwide renovation project. The Buckner Branch recently re-opened, the North Independence Branch received a little spruce-up, the Blue Springs North Branch has an ongoing renovation project, and the library system opened a new community hall at the Midwest Genealogy Center and broke ground on a new library in southern Lee's Summit.