Cass County Democrat Missourian

‘The Square is starting to come back.’ Harrisonville group eyes gathering spot

The area envisioned for a gathering space on the Historic Harrisonville square is currently used as a parking lot. City staff is concerned about work needed to repair a retaining wall and improve access if it were to be transformed into a public gathering area.
The area envisioned for a gathering space on the Historic Harrisonville square is currently used as a parking lot. City staff is concerned about work needed to repair a retaining wall and improve access if it were to be transformed into a public gathering area.

Many folks love the Harrisonville Square and want it to be a place people feel comfortable hanging out and watching the world go by.

So a group came up with an idea to create a new public gathering space on the square. What seemed like a simply idea, however, turned out to be more challenging than first expected.

Lindsay Keller, on the design committee of the “Love the Harrisonville Square” group, says they want to have green space near or on the Square. They envision a spot where people can play games, sit with their kids and just enjoy the historic atmosphere of the area.

“There is some green around the courthouse, but that is county property and we can’t do anything with that,” Keller said.

The closest public park to the square is Marler Wirt Allen Park. While members of the Love the Harrisonville Square design committee have worked to do cleanup and improvements at this park-space, the original purpose of the park was to memorialize two members of the Harrisonville Police Department killed in the line of duty in the 1970s. It didn’t seem ideally suited for a game-site or play area.

“Marler is a memorial park and we want to be respectful to the original purpose of the area,” Keller said.

In order to get the idea going quickly, the group envisioned a “pop-up” (temporary) public gathering space at the corner of Pearl and North Lexington streets. This spot, sometimes referred to as the Old Hotel Lot, is currently owned by the city and used for public parking. The group wanted to use the lot, or a portion of the lot, to enact their gathering space idea.

At first, the Harrisonville Board of Aldermen approved the plan.

Design committee co-chair Cheryl Bush said problems came with the idea of the space being “temporary.” As city staff looked at logistics, they had several concerns about the idea.

The parking lot sits below street level making access a challenge. A retaining wall there needs reconstruction, and the parking is getting used. Staff felt a temporary space might be impractical.

“If we end up doing anything there they felt it would have to be permanent and I don’t think the city is ready to do anything there on a permanent basis,” Bush said.

Rodney Jacobs, the superintendent of streets for Harrisonville, reported to the Board of Aldermen in a work session costs to create a permanent gathering space on the same grade as the square of about $90,000.

Those costs would include re-constructing the wall and extending the sidewalk off Pearl Street to an area large enough to accommodate the kinds of large board games and family friendly seating the group proposed.

The parking lot area currently offers 35 spaces for public parking. This kind of reworking on the site would also eliminate up to half of those spaces. Harrisonville Police Chief John Hofer reported to the Board of Aldermen his concern about reducing the parking because the nearby Police Department on Lexington has a very small lot. Many of the police staff use the old hotel lot when they are on duty. The lot at the police station is very small.

“The reality is that the police station does not inadequately accommodate our police officers and their vehicles,” Bush said.

Even with these challenges, city staff reports show they are on board with the idea of creating a place for people to gather outside to enjoy the square area. Advocates are still working and meeting with city staff on how to make the idea a reality. Options include using different locations, but the old hotel lot is not completely off the table as a location.

The Love the Harrisonville Square group wants to see a vital and thriving Historic Square in Harrisonville. The group earning its first accreditation from the Main Street America program in 2019.

The Main Street America program encourages non-profit groups to take an approach for building successful historic downtown revitalization efforts on a four-point approach. Along with design, which focuses on beautifying and making historic shopping districts more user friendly, the group has committees working on economic vitality, promotion, and organization.

The main goal of Love the Harrisonville Square is to preserve the historic character of the Square area with modern uses of the space in order to sustain and revitalize the area. The design committee took over eight planters in the area this spring and summer, keeping them watered and switching out floral enhancements with the seasons.

Bush says the mayor and Board of Aldermen are supportive of their efforts. She is encouraged by how far they have come in a short time.

“It’s baby steps, but we have great people involved. We aren’t going to give up,” Bush said.

“The square is starting to come back, and we want to be a part of it in any way that we can.”