What are Truman Connect and Square streetscape plans?

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

The city of Independence recently contracted for full-scale designs for a pair of long-conceived projects that previously never really got past the stage of grand plans and studies.

One is Truman Connected, a pedestrian and bike path meant to go from the Truman Library & Museum eventually out to the stadiums of the Truman Sports Complex. The second is Square Streetscapes, which would include a portion of the Truman Connected path.

Proposed Square improvements plan would include landscaping, refurbished sidewalks and curbs and making streets around the Truman Courthouse all one way.

Last month, the City Council approved two contracts with the Kansas City engineering firm WSP USA for design services on the two projects for a combined $524,600. Most of the cost is covered by street sales tax funds, with federal grant money covering the balance in the Truman Connected project.

“At the end of the day, they will have a construction draft we can hand off to whomever we select,” Council Member John Perkins said, if the city decides to move forward with construction. That decision likely won’t happen until late 2021 or into 2022.

The first phase of the Truman Connected project goes from the Truman Library along Bess Truman Parkway through McCoy Park to Spring Street south to White Oak, east to Main, south past the Truman Courthouse to Lexington, then west past the Community of Christ Temple and Auditorium until Lexington becomes Winner Road. The first phase ends with Winner Road at Sterling Avenue and the Englewood Arts District.

The Truman Connect plan would include a path in the median of Winner Road in western Independence.

At some cases, the path would involve existing infrastructure. Other areas, like the median in Winner Road, would have a new path.

“Some of the work is simply using the existing right of way,” Perkins said.

All told, the first phase of Truman Connected has an estimated cost of $4.7 million, which federal grant funds would cover. Construction from Sterling to the stadiums would be an estimated $5 million.

The Square Streetscapes project centers around the Truman Courthouse. It involves changing some blocks from one-way to two-way and vice versa; changing some angle parking to parallel parking; improving sidewalks, curbs and drainage; adding landscaping; and putting in a bicycle path on half of the Square. 

The block of Liberty Street from Lexington to Maple would become one way, as would Main Street between Maple and Lexington, creating a one-way, clockwise around the Truman Courthouse. Lexington and Maple would become two-way streets west of Liberty and east of Main.

“It’s been talked about and discussed for years,” Perkins said of Square improvement. “I have a plan from 2007.”

“The timing is really good,” he said, “to leverage this type of project.”

The Square project has an estimated $3.4 million cost. Besides street sales tax money, the city would plan to use some of its annual Community Development Block Grant federal funds for a couple years and some available Square tax increment financing funds.

Beth Franklin, president of the Independence Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, called the Square a focal point for out-of-town visitors.

“In many cases it’s the impression visitors leave with,” she said.

Jeff Rogers, president of the Independence Square Association, said the streetscape project would benefit not just visitors but also citizens, and the estimated 1,700 people who work on the Square and nearby.

“It’s a way to maintain our historical assets,” he said. “We’ve got the funding mechanism, we’ve got the people, and this would demonstrate that we’re not neglecting the role of maintaining our history.”

More of the council supported the Truman Connected project than the Square one. Council Member Karen DeLuccie questioned if that project would be a wise investment.

“I want to help the Square, but we have a lot more people (to help), and we have done enough for the Square right now,” she said, mentioning the Uptown Farmers Market and the land conveyed for townhouses.

Council Member Brice Stewart said it’s “a lot of money to take a chance with” and ultimately voted against both contracts, but he acknowledged “if it passes it will be a good project.”

Perkins and Council Members Mike Huff and Mike Steinmeyer are part of a group with citizens Laura Dean Wiley and Dan O’Neill that has tried to build off the work of an earlier citizen downtown group. That group gathered more than a dozen mothballed city project plans from decades past and identified some projects for downtown redevelopment stretching from the Square out to Englewood and U.S. 24 and Fairmount. 

Perkins said the city and Square are in a good spot to reinvest right and piggyback off interest from the renovated Truman Library and the new location of the Truman Historic Site Visitors Center, as well as work going on in Englewood, and not make these plans “another book on the shelf.”

“The timing is right to merge all of this together,” he said.

By putting downtown plans into action, Perkins said, Independence would be following a regional and national trend.

“Bringing life back to downtowns is just surging,” he said.