Allegra Gassman, a 30-year-old trust officer with Midwest Trust Co. in Overland Park, loves her job but has a dilemma.
When she and her work colleagues are ready for lunch at their office on College Boulevard, they usually brown bag it, raid the vending machines or order food in.
If they want to take a client to lunch or dinner, “unfortunately, we usually drive into Leawood,” Gassman told the Overland Park City Council on Monday night.
To address the sterile environment in the College/Metcalf business hub near the Overland Park Convention Center, the City Council on Monday endorsed the results of a $177,650 study, funded by the city, the chamber, the convention and visitors bureau and the Mid-America Regional Council.
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The study sets out recommendations and a vision for a more attractive, vibrant and people-oriented corridor to improve one of Overland Park’s most vital employment zones. Those recommendations sought to address the lack of pedestrian-friendly, landscaped streets and sidewalks and notable shortage of entertainment or restaurant amenities, especially after dark.
Gassman's office is between Metcalf and Nall avenues and, as she told the council, “There is nowhere to walk to.”
She and hundreds of others gave feedback for the study, either in meetings or through an online survey. She said she was excited to see the potential for the city to appeal to young professionals who want inviting surroundings.
▪ A “road diet” for College Boulevard, narrowing the lanes for traffic and providing more space for walkers and bicyclists, and places for cars to park. Leslie Karr, planning department manager, said the city could do a “trial run” using just paint rather than asphalt and concrete, to see whether it works. She said other cities have narrowed some of their key thoroughfares without increasing traffic congestion.
▪ More green space, picnic areas and possible pocket parks near the Convention Center, plus safer street crossings at the center.
▪ Food trucks, street fairs and other programmed activities to enliven huge expanses of parking spaces behind the convention center and elsewhere.
Council members enthusiastically endorsed the vision and directed city staff to bring back a strategic implementation plan later this year. So far, the implementation costs are unknown and could run into the millions of dollars. The funding sources are not yet identified.
“I’m very pro-walkability,” said Councilman Chris Newlin. “I think this vision is great. I think it’s the right way to go.”
Other council members agreed. Mayor Carl Gerlach said the reaction from the council was a “big thumbs up.”
“You’ve got all the heads shaking yes up here,” he told city planning staff.
Right now, car-centric College Boulevard is mostly a missed opportunity, according to Dana Markel, president of Visit Overland Park, and Beth Johnson, senior vice president of economic development for the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce. The area plays host to 1 million tourists per year at hotels within a mile of College and Metcalf. The corridor also draws 36,000 employees to work.
They are looking for an “amenity-rich environment,” Johnson told the council. She said Overland Park needs to move past the era of the 20th-century office park. It needs to compete with cities adopting appealing urban designs geared toward “talent attraction,” to recruit and retain top employees.
“We need to do better,” she said.
Councilman Curt Skoog said the Metcalf College study grew out of a 2016 council retreat on priorities for the city's future.
“I’m so excited this day is finally here,” he said.
He said the business corridor has been an incredible asset since the 1980s. Now, he said, the city needs to explore ways to ensure it remains an equally important corridor for the next 30 years.