If there were any doubt that Clay County has become one of the most dramatic regions in Greater Kansas City, that doubt was buried at the State of the Cities Luncheon Thursday, July 14.
Held by the Clay County Economic Development Council at Harrah’s North Kansas City, the presentations by leaders from seven communities and Clay County contained both jaw-dropping quantity and impressive quality. The sheer diversity was significant, with everything from major industrial development to outstanding quality-of-life projects.
Presiding Clay County Commissioner Jerry Nolte may have best summarized the presentations when he provided an overview of recent Clay County progress. “Who would have thought a few years ago that we’d be where we are today,” he said, noting the area is one of the fastest growing counties in Missouri. “It’s really remarkable. Clay County is starting to be what we always knew it should be.”
Nolte wasn’t exaggerating. Before he closed out the meeting, seven city leaders presented a long list of dramatic evidence. Major projects of all kinds are bringing thousands of jobs, new homes and multifamily housing, a variety of commercial developments and scores of new parks, trails and swimming facilities.
Mayor Sharon Powell of Excelsior Springs was first on the agenda and noted why even Clay County’s smaller communities are seeing big results. “We try to use an intelligent strategy with old-fashioned hard work,” she explained. “These new businesses fit well with our philosophy of having fun in awesome places.”
Powell outlined a number of exciting projects, from increased housing starts to rebuilding an old swimming facility into a new splash park. A new pool will have a removable dome so it can be used year-round.
Like several other communities, the city is also engaged in several behind-the-scenes efforts, including a study to determine ways to reduce flooding on the Fishing River. Excelsior Springs is also the first community in the nation to receive silver recognition through the Communities of Excellence Assessment and Recognition Program. “We made the intentional decision to pursue this work,” Powell said. “It’s the difference between pursuing solutions rather than putting out fires.”
Gladstone’s decades-long effort to build its downtown and spur growth along North Oak Trafficway has notched even more success – including some that will have impact beyond that city’s borders. Mayor Bill Garnos shared that a new police headquarters will break ground this year. Besides providing Gladstone Public Safety with much needed space, it will house a Joint Dispatch Center to be shared by Gladstone, Liberty and the Clay County Sheriff. Another dramatic project involves the $24 million investment by the North Kansas City Schools to purchase a former shopping center at 64th and North Antioch for conversion into the district’s Early Education Center.
Gladstone is not lacking for private investment, including a new hotel opened this spring and multiple multifamily investments, including a 200-unit luxury apartment complex that will also include retail and office development. City initiatives include reconfiguration of downtown parking to better handle the bustling city center and a large range of park and recreation development, including trail links to create a walkway that runs nearly the entire length of Gladstone.
As Clay County’s largest municipality, Kansas City unveiled an impressive list of accomplishments. Council members Heather Hall, Dan Fowler and Kevin O’Neill cited everything from completion of major parkways to new subdivisions and commercial developments. Several of the public projects complete multiyear improvements that now link strategic Northland roadways, replacing narrow, two-lane roads with wide thoroughfares boasting sidewalks, bike lanes and more.
“It won’t be the road to nowhere much longer,” Hall said of one project near Worlds of Fun that was started years ago but recently finished. “These developments are really significant.” Other examples included completion of Maplewoods Parkway and North Brighton.
In Kearney, Mayor Randy Pogue noted the start of a the strategic 119th Street interchange with I-35. Other major efforts involve passage of a use tax that is already funding parks, pathways and police projects.
“We continue to not only focus on new developments but also improvements to our existing infrastructure,” Pogue explained.
Liberty Mayor Lyndell Brenton presented a record number of dramatic projects, including investments of $650 million that will create 4,000 new jobs and bring property taxes worth $29 million annually – on land that previously paid only $63,000 a year.
Brenton also gave a shoutout to the diversity of Liberty’s development. The above projects are being built by five separate developers and include national corporations like Amazon and Walgreens. Even more development is expected soon, including one area comprising 1,000 acres.
Smaller Cities, Big Projects
North Kansas City Mayor Bryant DeLong provided an impressive list of projects from the One North development along I-29/I-35 to growing entertainment venues to art galleries, a park revision and extensive streetscape work. In addition, several apartment developments and the game-changing potential of a Northland streetcar extension were mentioned. Following several roadway and streetscape projects, North Kansas City is also preparing a $24-million, four-year upgrade of the Burlington Corridor.
Smithville Mayor Damien Boley closed with a combination of “wow” announcements and good humor. He said his city is planning some $100 million in projects that range from wastewater improvements to restored, historic buildings alongside downtown street improvements. Several projects, like a city-operated campground near Smithville Lake, are drawing outside visitors as well.
Chair Julie Sola opened the event, noting the EDC is reviving several committees that had been inactive during COVID. She invited members to help this effort to continue Clay County’s positive direction through groups like the Quality of Life and Tourism committees.
“We have a lot of issues in Clay County and need your support to move forward,” she said.