As the end the year approached, the Northland the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce heard from many of the area’s mayors at its December luncheon.
Dave Mecklenburg, the chamber board’s interim chairman, opened the Dec. 16 “Good News Luncheon” by remembering late board chairman Chris Byrd, who died in early November. Byrd was a “wonderful chairman,” he said.
As the name of the gathering suggested, Mecklenburg said he believes area residents, businesses and governments have plenty of “good news” to look forward to in 2015.
“We’ve had quite a bit of that in the last few years,” he said. “We’re coming out of a declining economy, (but) I think it’s nothing but better news in the coming years.”
Mayoral were three to five minutes long, and recapped 2014 accomplishments and what’s upcoming next year. Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston could not attend. Here are highlights from some other cities:
▪ Riverside: Mayor Kathy Rose outlined several business renovation and/or expansion projects, and improved services for her town of about 3,000 residents.
She said 19 new businesses located to Riverside in 2014, and about 25 new residential home permits were issued, for residences ranging from $165,000 to $700,000.
Information from a community-wide survey, she said, indicated that 96 percent of residents rated the city as an excellent or good place to live, 87 percent were satisfied with the overall quality of life, and new highs were reached on traffic flow management, traffic law enforcement, snow removal and sidewalk maintenance.
“All of these are good things, when your residents and businesses are really satisfied with what’s going on,” she said.
Next year, the city will continue working on a downtown business expansion, redevelopment and residential project, the mayor said.
A new QuikTrip, the city’s fourth, is also slated to open early next year, she added.
“No project has moved as fast as that project,” Rose said. “It’s supposed to be opening in March, and I look for it to open sooner.”
She said the city “couldn’t do any of this without the cohesive board that really is very agreeable on getting things done, and a very small, but very talented, staff.”
▪ Gladstone: Mayor Brian Hill used his time to pitch his city’s downtown.
“If you haven’t been to downtown Gladstone in the past three or four months, please come...,” Hill said. “People who have not been there, when I talk to them, they say, ‘Wow, I had no idea.’”
Hill also cited a new 222-unit luxury apartment project being developed in Gladstone. People will begin moving into the four-story building Jan. 15, and the city is encouraged by the early returns on the project.
The developer, Hill said, has projects all over the country.
“They’ve never had pre-leasing activity like this,” he said. “There are about 50-60 units already leased, all ages, young and old.”
▪ Liberty: Mayor Lyndell Brenton spoke about several new and current businesses.
LMV Automotive Systems has announced an expansion project that will add 256,000 square feet and create additional jobs through a second shift, the mayor said.
Also, RockTenn, a manufacturer of corrugated and consumer packaging, is consolidating facilities in the Midwest and South, and has chosen to remain in Liberty.
“We actually were able to retain 100 jobs rather than losing them to other facilities,” Brenton said.
The mayor said RED Legacy has proposed an $80 million retail center, encompassing roughly 332,000 square feet. Construction could begin in the spring, he said, and the center could possibly open late next year.
Brenton also discussed developments with B&B Theatres. The company recently announced acquisition of Dickinson Theatres and also has plans for a new facility in Liberty.
“When you think of B&B Theatres, you think, oh, that’s kind of a small mom-and-pop,” he said. “They’re the ninth-largest theater operator in the United States. They’re in the process of finalizing plans to move their theater about 200 yards east of their current facility, a $20 million investment in a new theater, 14 screens.”
“It’ll be a destination theater. It won’t just be a theater where you go to see a movie. It’ll be a theater you go to for an evening.”
▪ Smithville: Brian Fullmer said city leaders continue to work on a sewer project that could offer several benefits.
“That sewer project not only will make us independent, but also free up 800 to 1,000 acres, which are currently zoned — but they don’t have any wastewater,” he said.
City leaders anticipate taking “full advantage” of those acres in the future through development, he added.
Another highlight from the past year, Fullmer said, was the addition of a new Price Chopper, which continues to do well and has also been drawing out-of-town shoppers.
Looking ahead, Fullmer said city leaders are excited to work with Clay County officials next year to develop ways to expand uses of Smithville Lake. The lake, he added, is a valuable resource in drawing people to the area.
“We have almost 1.5 million people that come to Smithville Lake each year,” the mayor said. “And, there’s so much more that we would like to work with Clay County on to develop that resource — not just for Smithville, but for everybody.”
▪ Kearney: Mayor Bill Dane said his town continues to shown signs of positive residential and business growth.
“We’ve just broken 10,000 people,” said Dane, the city’s mayor for 13 years. “Never once have we raised taxes … We’ll never raise taxes. There’s ways to do things, be creative, bring development, without having to do that.”
He led his presentation by boasting of a new official hired to promote growth.
“The best thing we did this year in Kearney, Mo., was hire a young lady by the name of Shawna Searcy,” Dane said. “She’s our new economic development director, and we were fortunate enough to lure her away from Congressman (Sam) Graves. … We needed an individual dedicated to bringing industry and retail to our town.”
Other business notes mentioned by Dane included the ongoing development of a $40 million shopping center and a recent $5.2 million bond issue for road construction, designed to open 35 acres for future development.
▪ North Kansas City: Mayor Donald Stielow said accomplishments in the past year included the opening a new dog park, installing solar panels on various city facilities, completing a road project near North Kansas City Hospital and recently turning over a fiber optics operation to a private manager, which could result in cheaper Internet rates for residents and businesses.
The city, Stielow said, is also turning over operation of its community center to the YMCA. The transition takes effect at the beginning of the year, the mayor said.
Shooting of officer addressed by Pleasant Valley mayor
When it was Pleasant Valley Mayor David Slater’s turn to speak to business leaders earlier this month, he addressed an important, but somber topic. A police officer in his city had been shot in the face only a few days before.
Saying he spent time with the family of wounded Police Officer Jacob Baldwin after the Dec. 13 shooting, he alluded to politics and the availability of firearms.
“My biggest regret and only regret so far from that night is not calling my state senator and state representative and having them come up there and sit with me and that family,” Slater said.
“There’s a 7-year-old little girl who (hasn’t gotten to see) her daddy because we had a felon with a gun.”
Baldwin, 37, a Pleasant Valley officer for two years and a military veteran, was shot during a traffic stop on Interstate 35. Authorities have charged Omar D. Maria, 31, of Kansas City, in the case. He is a convicted felon.
“I just want to thank all the communities for their response ... ,” he said. “They were able to track that guy down, and it’s because we worked together.”
Slater spoke, along with other mayors, at the December luncheon of the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“Pleasant Valley might be small, but we work with the other cities and the other cities work with us. There’s a ton of things going on that will not make the paper because we don’t want it to. But, things are happening between your local jurisdictions, including across the state line, to make this a better metro. I’m glad to be able to play a part in that.”