A group led by the Independence Chamber of Commerce is asking the City Council to move ahead quickly on plans for a new city market facility on the north side of the Square, part of a broader effort to beautify the area and attract more private development.

The group is hoping for quick action and is expected to outline its plans to the council in two weeks.

“We think it would be a home run to have this done by Santa-Cali-Gon …” local attorney Mike Sanders said in a presentation to civic leaders Tuesday morning. He was referring to the annual Labor Day weekend festival that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Square.

Sanders put the cost at $1 million. The idea is use the north half of the city’s parking lot on Truman Road between Liberty and Osage streets. That’s about 330 feet long and 60 feet deep. It would be open aired and have a roof, much like what the River Market in Kansas City has.

Sanders said civic leaders are looking at an aggressive plan. For weeks, dozens of people -- city officials, chamber and EDC executives, school officials, business owners, others -- have been in a broad conversation about moving the city forward. Sanders alluded to the sense in that group that a moment of opportunity -- and perhaps only a moment -- has arrived.

“So the key here is very much the time frame,” he said. “Time is of the essence.”

The new city market would serve several purposes. It would get the farmer’s market off the unattractive parking lot at Kansas and Liberty.

“Thriving cities have good city markets,” Sanders said.

It also would give the chamber permanent space for some Santa-Cali-Gon vendors. And it would be a step toward a more attractive Truman Road, a gateway to the Square. Its appearance has come up repeatedly in the discussion about the city’s progress.

“Farmers market is something that I think is really a huge opportunity for us,” Mayor Eileen Weir said Tuesday. She said the cost and specific plan still need to be worked out but that if the council is on board the plan seems likely to go forward.

“We really need to get hard figures first,” added Council Member Scott Roberson, who said he supports the idea.

More broadly, the city market would be part of about $5 million in streetscaping, sidewalk improvements, hiking-and-biking lanes and other improvements that the chamber group, led by Sanders, is asking the city to commit to.

That work would cover the whole Square area, roughly from the Chamber of Commerce at Truman and Liberty east to the metro transit stop on Truman and City Hall on Memorial Drive and back west to the Eastern Jackson County Courthouse on Kansas between Osage and Spring.

Weir said that work might be done over two or three years, with a mix of public and private money. She said she’s not daunted by the idea of going out to raise money for such a cause.

“We’ve got an aggressive agenda … and people are picking up on it,” she said.

 

Thinking, planning

In early February, the Independence Economic Development Council got about 40 civic leaders to go on two-day bus trip to Bentonville, Arkansas, to see and hear about its Square, trails, arts-and-food scene and aggressive experiments in economic development. The idea was to borrow ideas.

Mayor Weir, who says her main goal in office is raising the city’s median income and therefore lift the entire community, said she hoped the trip would spark a local conversation. On Tuesday, she said that has succeeded “beyond my wildest dreams.”

Does the city market idea feel like a win?

“Absolutely,” she said.

Most of those leaders have continued to meet every other week -- open to the public -- and there are results. One group has spun off to organize a June 3 trash pickup, for instance.

And the chamber group has run with the Square infrastructure idea.

“The prism is really the long-term livability and sustainability of the Square,” Sanders said.

He added, “Everything that would be done would be with an eye to the larger picture,”

One improvement would be for visitors and residents who want to walk or bike to the city’s various attractions. To make that more inviting, city officials have been talking about using what’s called a Cycle Track, a separate lane on the street, physically separated from car traffic and marked with a distinct color such as green. The enhanced safety makes it more attractive for families and other users. The city is looking at connecting the Square to such nearby facilities as the Truman Library and the National Frontier Trails Museum.

Then the idea is to reach areas such as Englewood. At some point, bicyclists could connect with the Little Blue Trace in eastern Independence, which itself someday could be connected to the Katy Trail, which crosses most of the state.

“All of that’s going to be a huge plus,” Roberson said, “because people like to hike on hiking and walking trails.”