Merriam mayoral and city council candidates on the issues: Potential $43 million federal floodplain funding

Turkey Creek flooding

Merriam mayoral and city council candidates discuss their vision for downtown Merriam, the floodplain and the potential $43 million federal funding to remove downtown from the floodplain. Above, Turkey Creek in downtown Merriam. File photo.

The Post asked readers in August about the issues they wanted to hear candidates running for Merriam mayor and city council seats address. Based on that feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire with the most important issues to Merriam residents.

Each day this week, we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Today, we’re publishing candidates’ responses to the following question:

The heart of downtown Merriam lies in the Turkey Creek Floodplain, which has stymied efforts to revitalize the area for years. A proposal before Congress might provide $43 million in funding for levees that would take it out of the floodplain and allow for real redevelopment. What’s your vision for the downtown area? What should the city government be doing to make that vision a reality?

Below are the answers the Post received from candidates on this issue:

Mayor

Bob Pape

I hope that downtown Merriam can become a place where people can work, play, eat, shop, play music, get their vehicle repaired or buy a different one and be entertained. I think this area should become a destination location. Most of all, I think the area needs to meet the desires of our community. There are many great businesses that currently exist in this area. They provide a lot of sales tax revenue. Many have been a vital part of our community for many years. We need to take into consideration their needs and support their growth. We currently have a downtown Merriam drive committee that is seeking out both business and community desires. I think it is important to listen to what they find out and take into consideration their ideas as we move forward. We need to start by getting this area out of the flood plain. We are working with the Corp of Engineers to develop a plan of levees estimated at a cost of $43 Million dollars. We have set aside $5 Million and the County has an additional $8 Million toward this goal. We have a large tract of land where the Irene B. French Community Center was located that can serve as the catalyst for redevelopment. Let’s work together to determine the future of downtown Merriam.

Angel Lopez III

Did not respond.

Ward 2

Nancy Hammond

Let’s hope 43 million in funding is passed. We also have to deal with the railroad. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through to get the work done. Not to mention our old businesses that lie near the floodplain. But through the work and progress I see big plans for the future. We have lots of green spaces with our walking paths and parks that are already established. What we need is redevelopment with new businesses that fit the needs of our community. I also see a mural funding to bring beauty to the downtown area. Businesses that bring people together like stores that fit all ages. I think the community should vote on new art and maybe contest bringing the community together. We need revenue in this area. The more revenue the better. We also have residents paying more in insurance surrounding neighborhoods living in a floodplain. I would act quickly getting a plan in action. I love to see our floodplain problems end.

Amy Rider

Did not respond.

Ward 4

David Neal

Another function of a good local elected official is to advocate for your city in its relationships with higher level government entities. One of my priorities over the past 4 years as a Merriam City Council member has been to relentlessly advocate for full funding of the previously approved Upper Turkey Creek flood Control Project. This project will remove downtown Merriam from the 100 year floodplain which restricts property owners from modifying their existing buildings (other than cosmetically). Removal from the flood plain will enable the commercial property owners downtown to expand their business activities or sell to others that will. The Corps of Engineers approved the project over a decade and a half ago but Congress has not yet funded the federal portion of the shared cost. Johnson County and the City of Merriam have maintained in their budgets money for their own portions of project funding for all these years. Beginning with my first trip to Washington DC in March 2019 as a Kansas representative to one of the National League of Cities (NLC) federal advisory committees, I have made presentations every year to our 3rd District House Member and both Kansas Senators about funding the project. Rep. Sharice Davids has included federal funding for the design phase of the Upper Turkey Creek Flood Control Project in the House infrastructure bill passed earlier this year. While the Senate bill does not have specific projects enumerated, it is my hope that the final hard infrastructure bill will fund our flood control project.

To the extent that I can offer suggestions to the property owners who actually control the existing downtown commercial property, I would hope that we would eventually see a vibrant downtown with local merchants, restaurants, night life, and new mixed use development that seeks to preserve the small town “main street” character of the area. It should be noted that my vision is simply a reflection of my own desire. The recently completed Merriam Master Plan 2040 provides a couple of alternate visions for the area as well. As a big believer in public engagement, I think that future re-development should be driven by the community. If re-elected, I will strive to find out what the community envisions before voting to approve re-development incentive funding from the City.

Staci Chivetta

I am currently sitting on the committee of the Merriam Downtown Corridor Plan to find a vision that the community all comes together on. The Comprehensive Plan, which was completed earlier this year, also put together a lot of long term ideas for the downtown corridor that could be incorporated into the plan that is currently being worked on. I think the biggest thing to think about with this is it’s a long game, it isn’t something that can happen very quickly, but the fact that the city is working on a plan with the hopes that the floodplain work happens, we will have a plan to move forward with real development. I was also the chair of the 5701 Merriam Drive committee (Irene B. French Community Center site) and we came up with a plan for that site that could easily be rolled into the overall vision for downtown. The bottom line is – we need to listen to our residents and current business owners in downtown Merriam to find a plan that really suits our city, downtown is so visible from I-35 that we could really turn it into a beautiful destination for people outside of the city as well.

On Tuesday, we’ll publish candidates’ answers to the following question:

Merriam Town Center has seen some major tenants leave in recent years, including the city’s only grocery store. The city has been working with the firm Confluence on a comprehensive plan that suggests the possible redevelopment of the shopping center as a mixed-use area with housing and green space mixed in with retail. What needs to happen to Town Center in the coming years to make it a vibrant draw for Merriam residents?