Important Trends Appear as Cities Share Their Stories
1-Cities-Overview-Data-Center
Data center development like this in Kansas City, North, has people talking about Kansas City becoming a major national hub for the growing industry. The trend was among several significant insights visible at the EDC’s State of the Cities Luncheon.

The EDC’s State of the Cities Luncheon was a great blend of major announcements and good humor, plus some interesting trends that should not be missed.

The executive summary could be as follows: Throughout Clay County, a significant range of public and private developments is evident in every community. Several areas are experiencing growth on a historic scale. 

The variety of projects was one notable highlight. Projects ranged from a new grocery store in Lawson to an $800-million data center in Kansas City for Meta, the parent company of Facebook. Private investments took center stage, but public projects are also helping grow the region, with key connections in Excelsior Springs and almost too many park projects in Gladstone to list. The number of new jobs is in the thousands – by conservative estimates.

Major Private Investment

Two cities and two industries are worth citing first: Kansas City’s relatively rapid growth in the data center industry and Liberty’s massive logistics development.

Even a few years ago, data center development wasn’t on the radar for most Northlanders. Now, Kansas City’s explosive growth near I-435 and Highway 169 has people talking about a national hub for these massive server operations. The largest project is the Golden Plains Technology Park, an $800-million facility slated to build out 1.5 million square feet. If the full plan comes to fruition, it could eventually encompass 5.5 million square feet of data center space on 767 acres, with a multibillion-dollar investment – a larger investment than the new Kansas City International Airport terminal.

Liberty has been seeing equally significant growth of industrial development in large scale, high-tech logistics centers, essentially ultramodern warehouses that support today’s high-volume retail markets. Liberty has two major areas in play, with one in its southern section along South Liberty Parkway and another near Highway 69 and I-35 in the north. 

Long-Term Perspectives

None of this is new. Liberty’s South Parkway was first planned in the 1980s to draw such growth. In the north, Hallmark Cards erected its huge distribution center in the 1970s. But over the past several years, slow but steady development in these areas has been replaced by rapid expansion. A total of $1.7 billion has been invested in Liberty over the past 10 years, with over $1.2 billion in distribution centers and similar logistics operations. These investments are bringing hundreds of jobs, including over 500 slated for two Amazon distribution operations. Liberty is also keeping things balanced with other growth, including a recently announced residential development expected to bring some 10,000 new residents over the next 20 years.

North Kansas City is seeing similar, long-range planning pay off in the One North development, a strategic location alongside I-35/I-29 at Amour Road, once home to a large grain elevator. After years of city planning, the location is now one of the area’s fastest growing multiuse areas, with additional development under way for multiple hotels and apartments, a massive health center and sand volleyball and surfing restaurant.

Clay County growth is not limited to its larger cities, however. Lawson, the smallest community on the State of the Cities stage, had dramatic news in proportion to its size. Lawson could point to healthy doses of residential and commercial growth. A new grocery store, fitness center, Dollar General store and a restaurant are on the way. 

Public Investment

Several communities reported significant programs with public funding. An especially dramatic example involves Excelsior Springs where over $21 million has been awarded in a grant program called Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE). Excelsior Springs’ program is the largest such grant in Missouri and the seventh largest in the U.S. The project will help to better connect the city’s east and west sides with an emphasis on pedestrian travel and safety. A major feature will be a pedestrian bridge over Highway 69 and a pedestrian tunnel under the railroad tracks over Kearney Road (10 Highway). When the work is complete around 2030, sidewalks and trails will stretch from downtown to businesses on the west side.

Smithville’s most visible effort is an ongoing, multiphase downtown streetscape project. Now starting its third phase, the project next turns to North Bridge Street where it will tie walkways to a trail connecting downtown with Smithville Lake. 

Downtown Smithville’s first two phases have already drawn extensive private investment in the area with several buildings undergoing significant restoration. Also scheduled is a riverwalk and a community fundraising effort involving lighting for a park stage.

In Gladstone, one public project will have a regional impact. A police headquarters and city hall renovation will create a regional dispatch center to host communication officers from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Liberty, as well as Gladstone’s. The work, which includes major exterior changes, is just the latest in a decades-long effort to create a city center from scratch. Gladstone is also in the midst of significant park and trail development throughout the city.

More to Come

Perhaps the most visible public improvement in Clay County is under way in Kearney where the city is working with the state highway department to construct a bridge and interchange at 19th St. with I-35. Coupled with a roundabout under construction on Nation Road, the projects provide a second interstate interchange to compliment the busy Highway 92 area and adds new connections to areas of Kearney west of I-35. It’s hard to overstate the impact these will have in the next several years.

There’s still more. Several State of the Cities comments focused on the future. In Kansas City, one included progress on a transportation-focused development for the former Kmart at Vivion and Antioch Roads. Unlike the reimagined Antioch Crossing Center just across the street, the former Kmart has languished despite its central location. Kansas City, however, is now seeking proposals for redevelopment using a transportation emphasis, an effort that could also improve area public transit.

The largest future forecast may deal with the EDC’s 587 project. It involves creating a blueprint for world-class development surrounding the I-435/Highway 152 interchange and identifying a master developer for the effort. During the luncheon, Kansas City Councilman Kevin O’Neill said several developers have shown interest in the project and are in discussions with the city.

The meeting closed with Presiding County Commissioner Jerry Nolte who cited several county transportation projects, a significant tax reduction and area-wide cooperation. “There are a lot of good stories in Clay County,” he said. “We are really taking a giant leap forward, and we are able to that because of our cities and our investments.”

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