· The top issue in Independence was “Corruption” and best presented in the previous post. This City Hall has an uncanny attraction to convicted felons who all want a piece of us and now it is facilitated by lobbyists that we actually pay. The height of public misbehavior was during the last election when our Mayor Pro Tem was in a fist fight with a citizen/voter at a church polling station and the incident was covered on several news stations. A recall drive failed for Mr. Van Camp and it’s business as usual at City Hall.
· The MACO Northcreek project on Jones Road is near completion. This was approved for state subsidies by the Missouri Housing Development Commission in spite of another state agency designating it as an archaeological site worthy of protection or at least an archaeological study before any dirt was moved. And it gets worse, Oregon California Trails Association (OCTA) officials, Travis Boley & Matt Mallinson, unconditionally approved the rezoning without open discussion, public comment, or a formal review. Housing plans designed for flat sites had to include the removal of 20 feet of the natural terrain (and archaeological resources) creating terraced landscapes and canyons which is out of character for the surrounding neighborhood built into the natural terrain. Why should the public subsidize this very expensive construction that’s out of character, unpopular, and negatively impacts our history? MACO appears to be part of a cartel represented also by the City’s over-priced lobbyist and supported by a Political Action Committee whose contributions were strategically distributed. This project has represented THE most dysfunctional, unprofessional, and corrupt processes I have ever witnessed. Did these observations lead to the governor’s shut down of one of the state’s tax credit programs?
· Uptown Market was planned, designed, and constructed without input from historic preservation interests. This location is literally located on three nationally designated historic trails. The project was reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) because the city was applying for and eventually granted federal funds for the project. But the SHPO’s approval of the project was based only on 20th-century Truman history a block away. Did the City submit a fraudulent application for CDBG funds because our trails history was ignored? It appears the schedule for the grand opening just prior to the Santa-Cali-Gon Labor Day festival was more important than following the rules and investigating the site’s national trails history.
· The Brady Green Space (public park) across the street from the Truman Library that connects three other public parks and greens spaces, a hiking/biking trail marked with National Historic Trail signs, and is a landscape element of the Truman National Historic Landmark District was put on the open market for housing redevelopment by City of Independence at the direction of Parks/Recreation/Tourism Department. The property also included a monument stone with a bronze plaque (now missing) and a swale cut into the hillside that was a part of the road bed for one of the first railroads west of the Mississippi River. The rail route connected Waynes City riverboat loading to the Independence Square making it also a route for our three National Historic Trails. After a few citizens complained, the property was eventually removed from their list of unwanted surplus properties. This example along with the Pioneer Spring Log Cabin are representative of the City’s treatment of historic properties as objectionable liabilities rather than community assets.
· The historic Monte Parker Printing Building at 1106 West Lexington Street is prominently located across the street from the Community of Christ - United Nations Peace Park. In fact, the beautiful bronze sculpture of a girl reaching up to the heavens releasing a dove is literally facing this Parker building where ironically there has been very little peace according to neighbors. The building, also owned by the Church, has been neglected for decades and finally got 5 sheets of paper posted on its boarded-up store front indicating code violation proceeding. Vagrants have been living inside making situations precarious and, frankly speaking, “un-peaceful” for the neighbors and those standing on the street corner waiting for the bus. The fate of this property will likely be similar to Church property at 1306 W. Maple chronicled in this blog in 2010 as property neglect, a sham code enforcement process, and its eventual demolition.
· The Pioneer Spring Log Cabin has been listed as a stop on practically all tourism literature for at least four decades. This prominent street corner was designated by City Hall as a Local Landmark under the City’s voluntary program to honor the site and the contributions of many community volunteers and private donations for this once celebrated project. But more important, the Landmark Program mandates its protection and preservation in perpetuity while creating an opportunity for the City to set an example to the rest of the community for the stewardship of historic landmark properties. But after decades of neglect, several Council members want it removed calling it “ugly” and no longer historic because, “It’s not like it is Lincoln’s boyhood cabin.” Costs for restoration were even exaggerated to justify its demolition. We will see in 2019 what the City will do with this landmark and other landmarks under the City’s stewardship.
· Three Trails Brewery appears to be ready to open real soon on the Independence Square. It seems like a good fit in a historic district and common in other historic districts throughout the county. But this one is unique. It’s located next door to the County’s Drug Court where those with criminal substance abuse are forced to visit in order avoid jail time. So now those vulnerable souls populating the sidewalk on this block, smoking cigarettes, passing the time, and waiting for their time in court will now greet patrons for this new business. If you want to visit the new brewery, I recommend not taking a vehicle that has your company logo on it. Folks passing by will speculate whether you are there for a beer or for your day in Drug Court. In spite of everything working against the success of this new business, we wish them success that will lead to the relocation of Drug Court to a more appropriate location.
· The National Park Service (NPS) Visitors Center located in the historic Fire Station No. on Main Street will eventually be forced to leave and find another location. The Fire Station was owned by the City of Independence but will be given to a group representing our firefighting history. It appears an entity representing a small slice of local history is pushing out a federal agency that represents a national and international story. And if that dichotomy is not enough, the Square Merchants who have insisted they be exempt from following historic preservation standards are demanding that the Visitors Center that houses the nation’s historic preservation agency remain on the Square. It seems a negotiated consensus would be in order between the merchants and the NPS. If there is actual support for the preservation mission of the NPS, then the NPS would agree to support the merchants. Yes, but we forgot that win-win situations do not work in Independence.
· The idea of moving things is catching on. The City moved their Visitors Welcome Center to the headquarters for the Santa-Cali-Gon Festival which also allows the Independence Chamber of Commerce to have offices there. Maybe this will end up being a good thing to educate Chamber folks that the name of their signature event is actually related to our rich national trails history. We’ll see if the tourism planning by trial and error works.
· We learned in December that Mayor Eileen Weir was appointed to the National League of Cities - Community and Economic Development Federal Advocacy Committee. This committee’s responsibilities include developing federal policy positions on issues involving housing, community and economic development, land use, recreation and parks, and historic preservation. Maybe this is a move to take mistakes and lessons learned from Independence, many listed above, to the national level. Remember what the mayor said after the Truman National Historic Landmark District was placed in the Top Ten of Places in Peril in the State of Missouri, “We make mistakes ... in the name of progress.”
We are in our 10th year documenting historic preservation in Independence. The entire point of this activity is to explore why we struggle and what we can do to assure success in the treatment and protection of our rich history. If you have noticed negative trends over the years, you are not alone. In fact, situations now as bad as we have witnessed. We will see what 2019 has in store for Independence but, unfortunately, with current trends and leadership, all signs point to the continued slump.