Improvements along the Noland Road commercial corridor might have an additional funding source in the future.

Improvements along the Noland Road commercial corridor might have an additional funding source in the future.

Utilizing the economic development tool known as a Community Improvement District, property owners along the Noland Road from 23rd Street to U.S. 40 may agree to a 1 percent sales tax increase to fund a variety of physical improvements. The city of Independence, Independence Economic Development, the Independence Chamber of Commerce and Noland Road property owners have held discussions on the matter for several months, though no final plan is up for proposal.

In the past several years, a chamber of commerce focus group has formed for businesses along Noland Road from 23rd Street to U.S. 40. That group formed as part of the chamber membership plan’s effort to determine the wants and needs of businesses, said Rick Hemmingsen, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer.

“Through those discussions, we came to find out the property owners desperately need for people to listen to them and for new physical improvements along Noland Road,” Hemmingsen said.  

The Noland Road corridor now includes a 7.6 percent sales tax, which incorporates city, county and state levies. The city’s highest sales tax rate – 8.725 percent – is imposed within the 39th Street and Crackerneck transportation development districts.

While he wouldn’t quote an exact figure, Hemmingsen said a 1 percent sales tax increase along Noland Road could generate several million dollars annually in revenue.  

Hemmingsen said a Noland Road CID would show the city’s commitment to creating “a level playing field” with the CID that is taking place at the Events Center. (Besides the background information on how a CID works, City Manager Robert Heacock had no comment for this story since a Noland Road proposal has not been brought forward.)

In 2007, a majority of commercial property owners near the Events Center signed a petition to form the CID, and a dedicated half-percent sales tax within the district now goes toward the Events Center construction.

“Again, it’s a matter of policy of what the city has set,” Hemmingsen said of a potential sales tax increase along Noland Road. “The taxes for eastern Independence, we ask for them to be done for western Independence.”

Noland Road improvements have served as a citywide topic of discussion for years. About a decade ago, the chamber spearheaded an effort along Noland Road for a Neighborhood Improvement District, a tool in which property owners impose an additional tax upon themselves for improvements. Noland Road frontage property owners paid extra property taxes for 10 years to repay the city for general obligation bonds that were issued to make improvements. That improvement project was completed and cost business owners a little more than a million dollars for curbside, gutters and sidewalks improvements and new streetlights from 23rd Street to Interstate 70.

Hemmingsen referenced the chamber’s list of priorities for 2007-2011, which includes the support of any and all efforts by Noland Road property owners and tenants to stabilize and improve the area’s business development and profitability.

“The big step is that we all agree that this is what needs to be done,” he said of the chamber, Independence Economic Development, the city and property owners working together on the issue.

Noland Road also has served as a priority for Independence Economic Development. In spring 2009, the group conducted a Noland Road corridor business retention survey in which businesses listed “location, customer loyalty, high population density and cooperation/assistance with the city of Independence” among the area’s strengths. “Negative stigma, too many vacant buildings and community has abandoned older business areas in favor of new” were listed as Noland Road’s weaknesses for doing business.

The economic development group’s 2011 business plan outlines the development of a reuse plan and marketing strategy for commercial buildings on Noland Road as a priority for business retention.

Tom Lesnak, president of Independence Economic Development, said a CID plan would need to remain flexible so that property owners could utilize it in a variety of ways. For example, he said, the CID could be used as a match to funding that developers or building owners invest along the corridor.   

“I don’t think with the redevelopment of a corridor that long, there is a one-size-fits-all,” Lesnak said. “The possibilities are endless, but it comes down to that we don’t know what Noland Road is going to look like in 10 years. We’ve got to set up an organization that would operate that district with flexibility.”

He recognized that vacant properties like the former Big Lots building at 23rd Street and Noland contribute toward a negative stigma, adding that, in actuality, the corridor’s vacancy rate remains below 10 percent.

Hemmingsen said Noland Road was a different place when he joined the chamber staff 20 years ago, but he remains optimistic about the corridor’s future.  

“It was our main retail area, in addition to Independence Center. We had traffic jams on the weekends,” he said. “Through the course of free market, trends change, so now, I think, is a great opportunity to work in concert with the city to do something about it.”