The two City Council candidates seeking to represent southeast Independence both believe the Crackerneck Creek retail district will attract more tenants.
They disagree, however, on the urgency of issues facing the city’s electric utility.
Scott Roberson is facing Roxann Thorley for the 3rd District seat.
Thorley has represented the district since last fall, when she replaced Myron Paris, who resigned.
Thorley defeated Roberson in a vote among council members. The winner of the April 8 election will serve the last two years of Paris’s term.
The 3rd District is arguably the city’s economic center, with its East 39th Street corridor of restaurants and stores, as well as one traditional indoor mall. Also nearby: the Hartman Heritage, Eastland and Crackerneck Creek retail and restaurant districts.
A perennial issue has been the millions in debt service the city has paid on bonds issued to help finance Crackerneck Creek. The Bass Pro Shops store opened there in 2008, but the many additional stores and restaurants once imagined did not locate there as the economy cratered.
While both candidates made clear that they were not council members when the tax increment financing plan was approved in 2004, they believe the district will begin to fill in with tenants over time. Both point to the Stoney Creek Inn, under construction east of Bass Pro, that will include hundreds of hotel rooms and a 32,000-square-foot conference center.
It’s important right now, Roberson said, to stay the course.
“The city simply cannot default on those bonds.” Roberson said.
“If that happened we would have great difficulty selling any more bonds. The other option is to ride it out and make the payments until there is enough retail there.”
Thorley also is also thinking positive.
“I am a real estate agent and that really is a great location for business,” she said. “I have to believe the economy is going to come back and that we will fill the entire property there.”
The candidates differ about what the future holds for Independence Power Light.
In January a citizens group convened a meeting to encourage dialogue over the city’s two older coal-burning plants and what changes the utility should consider in how it generates electricity.
“Both of those plants will not be meeting EPA emission guidelines by 2016,” said Roberson, who attended the meeting.
“We would have to invest a significant amount of money to convert them. But I haven’t put a pencil to it yet. If I am on the council, I am willing to work with other council members on this.”
Thorley isn’t convinced the issue is urgent. She didn’t attend the meeting, she said, adding that however old the utility’s coal-burning facilities may be, they have been well-maintained.
She has not, she added, received many questions about the issue.
“At this time, I think this represents some activists going around and stirrring the pot,” she said.
Then there is the degree to which Independence — like many cities — relies on retail sales taxes.
While many believe the economy is on its way back, it’s also true that many American consumers are migrating from brick-and-mortar stores. More than once has City Manager Robert Heacock publicly lamented the loss of sales tax revenues as more purchases are made online.
“Independence, like any other city, is going to have to diversify its income,”’ said Roberson. “The city can’t depend solely on sales taxes and there has to be some creative thinking.”
Thorley isn’t quite as concerned.
“Maybe that is happening with some members of the younger generation, but I don’t believe that we are ever going to lose our stores,” she said. “People still want to go in and shop.”
She also insists that Independence is still a great choice for developers.
Both candidates believe they have personal qualities that will make them effective public servants.
“I am willing to listen to all sides of an issue,” said Roberson. “I also feel that I have a vested interest in Independence; my business and my home are here. I am committed to helping make Independence a better place to live.”
Thorley said she would bring “a common-sense approach.”
“As a real estate agent, I’ve learned to be a good listener. When people pick up the phone and call me, they usually have had it — so it is very important that I am a good listener.”SCOTT ROBERSON
5114 Conway Court
Bachelor’s degree, University of Missouri-Columbia; doctor of Dental Surgery, University of Missouri-Kansas City
Board member, 25 years, Child Abuse Prevention Association; past president and board member, Greater Kansas City Dental Society; trustee, four years, Missouri Dental Association
Facebook: RobersonforCityCouncilROXANN THORLEY
21200 E. 50th Terrace Drive South
Real estate agent, Reece
Wellington-Napoleon High School
Independence City Council since 2013; member, Missouri Real Estate Commission; member, Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors
•Website: Facebook: citizensforthorley; roxannthorley.com