By Roxie Hammill
Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach took a minute Tuesday to bask in the city’s successes and recognitions before urging residents to join the conversation about the city’s future.
Gerlach’s state of the city message at the Overland Park Convention Center began with a recitation of progress — $4 billion of new development since 2008, including $570 million in the Metcalf Avenue corridor covered by Vision Metcalf – plus various recognitions of the city as a good place to live and raise a family.
“Simply stated, Overland Park is flourishing,” he told a crowd of around just over 500.
For that to continue, he said, residents should get involved in civic issues. In particular, he stressed the discussion on the Farmers’ Market, the College and Metcalf corridor and the long-range city visioning study.
“Dreams of the past helped to create our successful, flourishing city of today. Progress depends on a willingness to try, to take risks, to see a bold future,” he said.
The Farmers’ Market drew more than 150,000 people to downtown last year, he noted. “Its location has been incredibly successful, but in terms of future growth use, is it the right place?” he said.
A recent consultant’s recommendation to move the market to Santa Fe Commons Park has been controversial enough that the city put a decision on hold until community consensus was reached.
At the speech, Gerlach did not endorse that or any alternative plans to expand the market. The city will upgrade gutters, wiring and paint while continuing to hear the views of residents and businesses, he said. The council also recently voted to buy a nearby carwash to ease some of the parking congestion downtown. That sale is not yet final.
Finding some way to improve entertainment options in the area of College Boulevard and Metcalf Avenue is another important conversation coming up, he said. He called the area “an emerging center of gravity” of the city, but one that loses fizzle after working hours.
The city is studying what to do to change that and Gerlach said he expects a presentation to the council in the near future. A planning team has been collecting ideas since last fall on the area along College Boulevard from Lamar Avenue to Lowell Avenue.
Gerlach also urged citizens to take part in Forward OP, a conceptual study of what Overland Park should look like in the future. Forward OP kicked off Jan. 30 and will continue with community meetings in April.
Gerlach recognized Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski, who was featured in a documentary “Big Sonia.” And he praised local businesses Emma’s Place and Rock Steady Boxing for the needs they serve. Emma’s Place, set to open March 1, will provide therapeutic child care for kids with special needs and Rock Steady Boxing is a gym offering boxing-style exercise for people with Parkinson’s Disease.
The annual speech had an unusual opening this year. In an effort to promote compression-only cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, firefighters and EMTs put on a “flash mob” as guests walked in, pumping away at CPR dummies to the tune of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, then invited passers-by to stop and learn the technique before the luncheon began.