Clay County Celebrates Dramatic Growth, Improvements Countywide
State of the Cities
Clay County Economic Development Council Chair Julie Sola introduced Clay County Presiding Commission Jerry Nolte during the State of the Cities/County Luncheon March 30.

Several new announcements, some eye-popping numbers and the traditional good humor highlighted the 2023 Clay County State of the Cities/County luncheon at Harrah’s North Kansas City Thursday, March 30.

With this blend of information and humor, the presentations by city and county leaders featured public and private development from nearly every corner of the county. 

EDC Chair Julie Sola opened the meeting and shared one development that may not happen but represents an important recognition of Clay County. A nearby, North Kansas City site is among the top five suggested for a “downtown” Royals baseball stadium. Although it’s likely a Jackson County location will get the final nod, the inclusion of Clay County is significant. 

Smithville Mayor Damien Boley likely spoke for many of the leaders when he joked about a municipal topic that’s widespread but rarely discussed by the public. “Every day, I get to talk about sewers, and I love it,” he laughed. “But we also invested heavily in our parks, and we’re going to spend more.” Smithville will also continue its beautiful downtown work that’s resulted in several Missouri Mainstreet awards, including a Riverwalk project boosted by a recent, $900,000 grant.

North Kansas City Mayor Bryant DeLong brought one of the event’s more somber moments, remembrance of police officer Daniel Vasquez who died in the line of duty. DeLong listed a wide range of development projects, from a $15-million renovation of the city’s 100-year-old water plant to continued progress on the downtown streetscape, ultimately a $4 million project. The One North multi-use development east of I-35/I-29 continues to grow and will soon feature a sand volleyball and surfing restaurant. Less visible, the city is collaborating with other area agencies and the state highway department on a study regarding bringing the Kansas City trolley into the Northland.

Clay County’s biggest city, Kansas City, was represented by Councilman Kevin O’Neill, who joked that two years ago he was accompanied by two other council members and last year by one. “This year, I’m all you get,” he quipped. Though presenting solo, O’Neill brought a lot of news.

One of the biggest developments in Greater Kansas City is the $800 million data center for Meta in the city’s northern tier. O’Neill confided that other data developers have approached the city, and plans are under way to create a regional, even national data hub.

Another long-range effort is under way to set in motion development of the 587 Project, an EDC goal to create a world-class, multiuse project in the largely empty area surrounding the Highway 152/I-435 interchange. O’Neill said the city has been talking to several master developers who have shown interest in the project. “It’s building momentum,” he said, noting the effort could take from 10-12 years from conception to groundbreaking. 

O’Neal also pointed to more immediate projects, including several efforts to prepare the city for the NFL draft next month. He praised EDC member and honoree Dan Horn for his work building Metro North Crossing. Similar redevelopment is also under way for the former Kmart on Vivion Road.

Liberty Mayor Lyndell Brenton looked back on that city’s dramatic growth over the past 10 years, including over $1.7 billion in total investment. That’s only the beginning, however. Brenton said another $1 billion plus is planned shortly, including a healthy blend of industrial, commercial and residential. One project near Liberty North High School could add 10,000 new residents over the next 20 years.

Brenton, whose 10 years of service is about to end with his retirement, said the projected growth is especially significant. “Most of that is already approved, and a lot of it will start this year,” he said. 

While Lawson is one of Clay County’s smallest communities, Mayor Greg Taylor listed an impressive range of projects, including a grocery store that will fulfill frequent requests by local residents. Other projects include several park improvements, a new fitness center, restaurant and box store. A 148-home subdivision is scheduled to break ground this fall.

Kearney Mayor Randy Pogue said the game-changing 19th Street interchange with I-35 is progressing well. The effort includes the city’s second freeway access and major improvements to the 19th Street, including on the largely rural area west of I-35. Both the interchange and street improvements are expected to be complete this year. He added that other Kearney efforts include planning for a new aquatics center and trails connecting the city’s existing network. Kearney is also seeing $23 million in residential development and $7 million in commercial development.

Mayor Bill Garnos of Gladstone cited the nearly complete police headquarters/city hall upgrade project that will include a state-of-the-art public safety communications operation servin three of Clay County’s public safety organizations, Gladstone, Liberty and the Clay County Sheriff. The projected to save resources and improve service.

“Other agencies are already calling us to see how they can do this,” Garnos said. 

Other Gladstone efforts include completion of a multi-use trail encircling Happy Rock Park East, a $25 million early childhood education center and a new, upscale apartment complex near Hobby Hill Park.

In Excelsior Springs, Mayor Sharon Powell cited a joint effort with Clay County to address downtown flooding. Other highlights included a federal grant to address the historic Hall of Waters renovation and another to improve pedestrian safety on the city’s west side, including a crossing at Highway 69 near the high school. Powell said the city’s total investment includes $50 million in projects, including $32 million in transportation grants.

Presiding Clay County Commissioner Jerry Nolte shared a range of successes from an emergency rental assistance program to lower business property taxes. First, however, he praised the work done by the region’s cities.

“This afternoon has been a spectacular showing of what our municipalities are doing,” Nolte said. “There are a lot of good stories in Clay County. We are really taking a giant leap forward, and we are able to do that because of our cities and our investments.” County work includes almost $4 million on three bridges and nearly $4 million for rehabilitation of the runway at Midwest National Air Center.

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