Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Bay Opens with a Splash

By Paul Thompson • JC Advocate
South Kansas City made waves last Friday when ‘The Bay’ water-park was finally introduced to the public.

The sparkling new $7.5 million public water park, located at the Longview Tract off Blue Ridge Blvd., held its soft opening last weekend with great fanfare and a large swell of community patronage.

For area proponents, it was a triumphant moment more than a decade in the making. South Kansas City had been deprived of a public water facility since the closing of the YMCA (at the same location) more than a decade ago. 

The park is packed with amenities, including a lazy river, two tube slides, a swirl bowl slide, a six-lane lap pool, a zero-depth entry pool, and honestly, a whole lot more. 

“Working folks deserve public services as much as anyone else,” said Kansas City Councilman John Sharp said at the event, in a moment of introspection.  “I think this is the most significant thing I’ve done since I’ve been in public office. But I couldn’t have done it without a wealth of community support.”

Councilwoman Cindy Circo praised the tireless efforts of Councilman Sharp to ensure that the revitalization of the Longview Tract was successful in its transition from dream to reality. 

“On behalf of our mayor, we’re very proud to help you celebrate this new community asset,” said Circo to those gathered in attendance. “I truly want to thank Councilman Sharp. His advocacy for the Southland has been undaunted.”

Several others spoke in swift speeches before an official ribbon cutting was held, as the dignitaries in attendance preferred to allow the park itself to serve as the main spectacle of the evening.

The Longview Tract has been undergoing a makeover for years now, and the location already boasted a popular spray-ground, as well as basketball courts and refurbished football fields that host hundreds of children for organized weekend games.

But the area is poised to be an even greater attraction now that it boasts an anchor tenant as impressive as The Bay. Sharp, for one, believes that the water-park can help lure businesses to the surrounding area. He listed the need to find a replacement grocery store in the old Apple Market building (off Longview Road and Blue Ridge) as a primary goal now that The Bay has been completed.

 “This is the jewel of the development right here,” said Sharp, gesturing behind him toward the water-park. “This was something that was community-driven and community-led. This is the beginning of the rejuvenation of the Ruskin/Hickman Mills area.”

The Bay is open from noon until 8pm Monday through Friday, and 11am until 8pm on Saturday and Sunday. The cost of admission is $6 for youth (under 48 inches) and senior (over 65 years of age), and $9 for the regular rate. Admission is free for any child under a year old. Check the park’s website at thebaykc.com for any further questions.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Progress Made on Truman Corners

Board approves TIF contract, clears way for condemnation

By Seann McAnally

The Grandview Board of Aldermen and RED Development have finally hammered out the details of the tax increment financing redevelopment plan for Truman Corners. But until the developer can purchase the land, little is likely to happen on the site. That’s why the board has also readied the way for the use of eminent domain, if necessary. 

While the board has already approved the redevelopment proposal, the details of the TIF contract had yet to be finalized. The board on May 16 approved the contract at a special session. 

Attorney Joe Lauber assured the board that multiple protections were built into the contract to limit the city’s liability on bonds if the center does not perform as RED says it will. 

“You have a lot of protection here, but there is always a risk,” Lauber said at a work session May 15. 

Part of those protections are that no bonds will be issued to pay for the project until RED has signed leases for tenants at the redeveloped shopping center. 

But right now, RED does not own Truman Corners. American Resurgens Management, the current owner, has already had a TIF plan revoked by the board for failing to bring tenants to the center. It also submitted a competing proposal to redevelop the center, but the board rejected it, saying in essence that the plan was “too little, too late” after years of inaction.
 
RED is required to negotiate in good faith to purchase the center from its former rival, but it now has a heavy hammer to bring to the negotiating table. The board approved the use of eminent domain that would force a sale if RED is unable to work out an agreement with the current owner. It could be many months before further action is taken on the issue. 

Aaron March, an attorney for RED, has indicated in past meetings that RED’s offer will be based on what American Resurgens Management says the property is worth. But American Resurgens repeatedly protested and appealed any hikes in the assessed value of the property over the past decade - one of the reasons the board revoked the original TIF in the first place.
“That’s contrary to the purpose of a TIF,” Lauber said. 

“Our offer is going to be based on what they’ve  testified under oath that it was worth,” March said, indicating that RED would offer the relatively low amount the owner said it was worth when appealing assessments. 

If RED and American Resurgens cannot come to an agreement on what the center is worth, a board of judges will force the sale and set the price. That process could be lengthy. 

“Chief among the city’s concerns with the redevelopment schedule is the length of time that businesses are inactive due to demolition and reconstruction, as this time frame can have a serious adverse impact on the city’s sales tax revenues,” Lauber said. “A provision was inserted into the TIF agreement to expressly state this concern and make it a requirement that the parties cooperate to minimize such period of inactivity.” 

According to city documents, the   redevelopment should be complete no later than Spring 2015. As yet, RED has no signed tenants at the site, though both attorneys and city elected officials have made vague mentions of “deals in progress.” 

The center would also have a public plaza, statue of President Truman, possible military memorial, and other public amenities.

The development will cost some $91.3 million, with the developer asking the city to back bonds for almost half the development costs.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Saying Farewell to Dr. Marge Williams

Hickman Mills Superintendent Ends Last School Year with Celebrations, Honors

By Andrea Wood

JC Advocate
After 12 years at the helm of the Hickman Mills C-1 School District, Dr. Marge Williams is retiring with a bang.

Nearly 400 people were invited to a retirement party for Dr. Williams at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center and State Museum on Friday, May 4th. The evening event, complete with food and live entertainment, was entitled, "The Lady in Red, Our Hero."

Several dignitaries gave video salutes to the superintendent, including Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, KC Mayor Sly James and Alvin Brooks. 

State Representatives Jason Holsman and Kevin McManus presented Dr. Williams with a proclamation from the statehouse, congratulating her on her years of service to Missouri's school children. 

Ruskin students also created a video tribute to Dr. Marge using the Dr. Seuss book "Oh, the places you'll go...." as a theme.

District Spokesperson John Baccala said that the elaborate event was funded in part through the district, with the help of donations.

"While the vast majority of the evening was paid for through various individual and group donations, the district did spend just under $2,500- money that was in an existing Public Information Office account for just such events," he said.

During the May 3rd KCMO City Council meeting, Dr. Williams was honored for her service.

And last August, she received the prestigious Harold L. Holliday Distinguished Public Service Award from the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, Inc.

Aa an educator for nearly 37 years, Dr. Williams was the first African-American superintendent in the nearly 110-year history of the Hickman Mills C-1 School District, the oldest consolidated school district in Missouri. 

She has been in the Hickman Mills district for 19 years- the last 12 as superintendent.

Dr. Williams grew up in Kansas City, receiving her education in the Kansas City Missouri School District and graduating from Lincoln University. She earned her master's degree and doctorate from Kansas State University.

By the time she arrived at the Hickman Mills C-1 School District, she had been an educator for many years. Dr. Williams took the role of Principal at Crittenton and Spofford, then became an Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction.

Dr. Williams was named Deputy Superintendent before finally taking the district's top role.
It has been a tough 12 years to be Superintendent of the C-1 School District.

During Dr. Williams tenure, the district lost nearly 1,500 students. The declining enrollment led to the closure of Hickman Mills High School in 2010, and the consolidation of several schools.

With declining enrollment came declining funding from the state, which uses a formula based, in part, on the number of students in a district.

Teacher layoffs have occured during several years of Dr. Williams' administration, along with other painful budget cuts for the district.

During her years as Superintendent, Dr. Williams also navigated Hickman Mills through the challenges of the No Child Left Behind act. While students in the district have struggled to meet "proficient" levels on the state's standardized tests, Dr. Williams managed to have the district maintain its accreditation.

There have been other highlights throughout her 12 years as Superintendent as well.

All three times that the district put issues on the ballot, voters cast their support for the district.

The latest voter-approved bond supported the construction of the Freda Markley Early Childhood Center, a state-of-the-art facility for the education of the community's youngest and most in-need children.

Last week, students from each of the district's schools performed for "Dr. Marge" during a special retirement ceremony at Hickman Mills Junior High School. She said the student performances brought her back to her school days, when she was on the drill team and choir.

"This is something I will remember a lifetime," she told students at the special ceremony. "You couldn't have given me a better gift."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Longest Ride

By Seann McAnally

Chris Smedley, 1961-2012
A stream of cyclists, decked out in colorful, skintight biking gear, rides together every Tuesday morning. A leisurely ride, it’s less about endurance than it is about having fun. With nicknames like “Captain Bob” and “Too-Tall,” the group can be seen out cycling the Longview Loop or other bike paths around South Kansas City. 

But last Saturday, their ride was much different– a funeral procession of cyclists riding to honor the man who brought them together in the first place: Chris Smedley, owner of the Bicycle Shack on Blue Ridge Blvd. in South KC. 
Smedley passed away April 29 after a battle with pancreatic cancer – one he handled with the positive attitude that characterized his life. He was just 51 years old. 

Words in Smedley’s obituary echo what most of his friends say about him: “He not only taught us how to live well – he now has taught us how to go gracefully.”

Born in Kansas City in 1961, Smedley was raised in South KC and Grandview, where he graduated from GHS in 1979. He was buried May 5 at Mt. Moriah Cemetery, after a funeral that was characterized by a sense of celebration, rather than grief. Few black suits were in evidence at the service – instead, many of his friends and family showed up in their cycling gear. 

Though cycling was Smedley’s lifelong passion and occupation – his dad owned a bike shop, and Smedley opened his own in 1981 – his friends say it was about something deeper than mere athleticism. Cycling was one of many ways that Smedley brought people together – people who became close friends, all of whom have stories to share about how loving and kind he was.

“There aren’t enough superlatives or accolades to describe how great of a man Chris was, but one of the things I admired most about him was how selfless he was,” said Ben Simon.

“I bought a bike from him, and shortly after that I was diagnosed with a neuro-muscular disorder,” Doug Bolton said. “He sat down with me, worked with me, and showed me how to overcome my disability.”

Bolton soon joined Smedley’s regular Tuesday morning rides and got to know the man. 

“He taught me a lot about cycling, and a lot about life,” Bolton said. 

More than 20 friends gathered at Neighborhood CafĂ© in Lee’s Summit on May 4 to honor Smedley. The breakfast was a continuation of a Friday-morning tradition Smedley started a few years ago, rotating between various local eateries. 

“He came to these breakfasts until about three weeks ago, and he always had a smile on his face,” Bolton said. “He was a true fighter. He was fighting up until the day he died.”

Throughout his battle with cancer, “ChrisStrong - Keep Rollin’” bracelets were made to increase public awareness of those battling cancer in the Kansas City area and beyond.

It was indicative of the man, and the love he had for his friends, family and community.

In fact, Smedley’s biggest legacy, Bolton said, has less to do with cycling and more to do with friendship and love. 

“You see this, right here?” Bolton said, gesturing at the crowd. “That’s cycling. That’s what Chris gave us. Going out and riding with friends, the social atmosphere he created…when we’d ride, jokes would start flying, stories would start coming…we’d have a blast!” 

Jason Starforth, Smedley’s son, agreed. 

“It wasn’t always about racing with him,” he said, “it was about the camaraderie. Just going out, laughing, talking, being around people you know.” 

With cyclists of all skill levels involved in Smedleys’ rides, he’d never let anyone fall behind. 

“When you’re riding in a group, sometimes you’re having a bad day and you can find yourself at the back of the pack, all alone,” Bolton said. “He’d fall back and ride with you. That was really cool.” 

Several friends shared variations on that story – being stuck at the back of the group, struggling with a hill, feeling frustrated, only to look up and see Smedley’s smiling face.

“He always took care of new people, and made sure they didn’t get left behind,” said Donna Swift. 

Jim Flath agreed, recalling that when he first started riding, he struggled more than once. 

“If you were slowing down, he’d hang back with you. You’d get to the top of that big hill and he’d be there waiting for you.” 

Bert Swift, who works at the Bicycle Shack, said the business was more than just a job for Smedley – his vocation and his avocation were the same thing. 

“He made going to work very pleasant,” Swift said. “You wanted to work. You wanted to help.” 

“Nobody that came into the Bicycle Shack was just a customer to Chris,” said Ben Simon. “Everyone was a friend that he needed to help.”

One aspect of Smedley’s life surfaces over and over in conversations with his friends – how nice he was. But Starforth said Smedley never would have thought of himself that way. 

“He was such a compassionate person; he’d do anything for anybody. But that was just how he was. It seems normal to me. That’s what he taught me – if someone needs something, you help them.” 

John Tye said Smedley went above and beyond the normal commitments of a small business owner. 

“My wife and I were very young and she was pregnant, so I sold both our junk cars to buy one reliable car for her. I purchased a bike from Chris. I rode to and from work for two years, rain, snow or shine,” Tye recalled. “In that time I had a few breakdowns and Chris would come to where I worked, take my bike back to the shop, repair it and return it to my work so I’d have a way to get home. Because of that service I never went anywhere else and I continued to get that kind of service for the next 24 years.” 

Brian Lasswell, a competitive cyclist, said Smedley’s regular business hours were flexible when it came to racers. 

“Being on a race team, if you had a race the next day and needed work done on your bike, he didn’t even think twice about keeping his shop open late,” Lasswell said. Smedley, whose shop sponsors racing teams, would even do that for cyclists who were competing against him.

Though Starforth and his sister, Elizabeth, are technically Smedley’s stepchildren, he was always “Dad” to them. Starforth remembers the first time he ever met Smedley, and said his patience and kindness were evident.

“I was in about first grade, and he was visiting with my mom. He had a really nice Cougar and I started stacking gravel rocks on the hood in a pyramid.”

But when Smedley came out and saw the stack of rocks on his car, he didn’t get angry or annoyed. 

“He just laughed and said, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’” Starforth recalled. 

Wornall Road reconstruction project begins May 14

The City of Kansas City, Mo., Public Works Department advises motorists that Wornall Road, from just north of 133rd Street to 135th Street, will be closed to thru traffic beginning Monday, May 14 as crews begin a roadway reconstruction project. During this closure, motorists will be detoured to Holmes Road. This project will replace waterline, reconstruct the pavement and add a sidewalk along the east side of Wornall Road. This road is scheduled to reopen in three months, with additional phases to follow. For more information regarding this reconstruction project, please contact Dennis Gagnon, City Communications Office, at 816-513-2659.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Truman Heritage Festival Video

Grandview on May 3-5 celebrated 100 years with the Truman Heritage Festival. Videographer Bret Mavrich was there, camera in hand, to talk to Mayor Steve Dennis and local business owners about the future of Grandview.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Water Rates to Rise...Again

KCMO Water Services issues system-wide 14% increase, rate hike trickles to 10% increase in Grandview
by Andrea Wood
 
Just in time for lawn-watering season, water bills in Kansas City and Grandview will rise by double-digit percentages this month.
 
As of May 1st, the Kansas City Water Services Department raised rates on their combined (water, wastewater, and stormwater) bill of approximately $9 a month, or about 14%.

The Jackson County Public Water Supply District #1, which primarily serves Grandview, purchases all of its water from Kansas City and saw an 11.9% rate hike from KCMO. JCPW#1 will pass along a 10% rate increase to its customers. An average household in Grandview will see roughly an increase of $3.13 per month.

The price hikes seem to be an annual occurance, and are likely to continue.

"You are going to see significant rate increases in the near future," KC Water Services CFO Sean Hennessy told the Southern Communities Coalition last year.

Hennessy said that the city's efforts to comply with the Clean Water Act and other federal regulations are expensive ventures.He said the department must replace aging infructure and address overflow issues, and those costs are going to be reflected in residents' water and sewer bills."

In a statement this week, KCMO reiterated that the rate hikes are needed to fund expensive, required projects.

"Over the last several decades, water and wastewater rates have not kept pace with inflation," the statement said. "Water Services must address repairs and system replacements of aging infrastructure while at the same time implementing the Overflow Control Program which is estimated to cost $2.4 billion in 2008 dollars."

Jackson County Public Water Supply District #1 issued a statement about the rate increases:

"Kansas City informed us after the 2005 increase that we were within 1/2 to 1 percent of what they say it costs to serve wholesale customers, so we assumed that subsequent increases would be more in line with inflationary trends.

"Until 2007 the District absorbed the rate increases by Kansas City. But contrary to expectations, Kansas City has not leveled out, and in fact, the increases by Kansas City have been larger and they say that the increases in rates to wholesale customers will continue in the future.

"The District is working with its partners in the Suburban Water Coalition to find ways to hold Kansas City accountable and request a response to our inquiries for information on elements of their wholesale rate. We will continue to do so by every means available, and will continue to look for an alternative water source."