Merriam city council candidates on the issues: The future of Merriam Town Center

Merriam mayoral and city council candidates discuss their vision for Merriam Town Center, which is home to stores like The Home Depot, Old Navy and Bob's Discount Furniture. 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:

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?

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

Ward 4

Staci Chivetta

The comprehensive plan lays out a very interesting take on how the area of Merriam Town Center could be redeveloped. It is a 20 year plan and ultimately, would take a very long time to get a plan of that magnitude implemented. It is also up to the developer and owner of that property to want to make a change. Retail and big box developments are pretty much dying and millennials and generation z tend to buy things traditionally sold in big box retail online vs. in person. If we want the city to move forward into the future we need to form a better working relationship with SITE Centers, the owner of the property, and see how we can implement some or all of the ideas set forth in the comprehensive plan. With the space being so visible from the highway, it could be a great draw to bring people into the city in the years to come!

David Neal (incumbent)

As with any commercially owned property in Merriam, there is little that the City can actually do to shape the tenant mix or improvements that the owner makes on the property. The City of Merriam has virtually no jurisdiction regarding what businesses can be operated in Merriam Town Center. The only thing that a City can do with existing commercial property is to encourage the private property owner to comply with property maintenance regulations.

If the property owner of Merriam Town Center wishes to redevelop their property and if it qualifies for incentive financing from the city, only after the owner brings such a plan to the City, can the City do anything to shape the direction of the land use. I can assure you that the City Council will take a hard look at such a proposal and then possibly be able to negotiate some of the project design considerations — such as locating a grocery store there — in return for a favorable decision on economic development incentives. The Merriam Master Plan 2040 produced with the help of the firm Confluence should provide a guide for the property owner regarding the type of project that the City (as reflected through the planning process) might look most favorably on for City Collaboration.

Mayor

Bob Pape

I think it is important to always be looking for ways to make our community more vibrant. I have seen the ideas that Confluence has proposed that would completely change the ambiance of the town center. I will admit that these ideas have a lot of promise and they would be exciting to see. However, I am not sure that the timing is correct to be pursuing the redevelopment of this area. The Town center is not blighted. It just recently added “Bob’s Discount Furniture” and ‘Ross Dress For Less” as tenants in the old Hen House location. Currently, there is only one small vacant tenant spot. I am sure that any attempt to redevelop this location will require Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Considering the fact that this area is still a viable center that brings in a lot of tax revenue; I am not sure that pursuing redevelopment at this time is a good idea. Anytime TIF is used, we must look at the cost and benefit of the project. If it becomes blighted and a lot of vacant buildings ensue, then I would be interested in pursuing redevelopment. Downtown Merriam, old K-Mart property and the Shawnee Mission Corridor need to take priority over the Town Center.

Angel Lopez III

Did not respond.

Ward 2

Amy Rider

The novelty of new developments always draws people. The only thing that needs to happen is for a plan to be made and executed. Growth is the only way to reverse the downward spiral once it begins. I really like the idea of having a mixed-use area with a green space in the Merriam Town Center. I believe that it will begin to remedy several issues that we have been facing: lack of housing, and businesses leaving. Although Merriam seems to have enough houses the fact that the housing bubble has not burst yet proves otherwise. The lack of housing is an issue that we are all feeling in the form of the County increasing our property taxes. Property is in high demand therefore the county claims it is more valuable so they raise our taxes. With the development of more housing, hopefully the housing bubble will finally burst and the county will lower our property taxes again. Also, with the increase in residents within walking distance of the stores, I believe Town Center will be a more desirable location for businesses to want to move in: more people= more spending. Hen House left because their rent went up. However, if Hen House had the business to afford the increase in rent they may not have left in the first place.

Nancy Hammond

Transforming doesn’t have to cost a lot. The back parking facing the stores could be a great place to start. Entertainment brings people of all ages. Here are a few ideas. Art festivals. Carnival festivals during summer. Pop up stores. Vendors could do a 6 week rental for outside. Food truck night with games for the family. Even a ice skating rink during the winter months. Live music with outdoor concerts. This alone will bring more people to Merriam Town Center. More people, more businesses. It has worked and is cost effective while bringing in revenue. Three things that help malls Convenience, Curation and Culture.

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

Merriam’s location along I-35 poses some challenges for creating walkable and bikeable neighborhoods. The cities of Merriam, Overland Park, Mission and Kansas City, Kan., recently embarked on a project to see how Merriam Drive/Lane can be improved — including walk and bikeability. What initiatives, if any, would you support to improve walk and bikeability in Merriam? Why?