KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There’s no sidewalk on Shawnee Mission Parkway as it passes over Interstate 35 in Merriam, but that doesn’t stop pedestrians.
“There is a very small shoulder that people will walk across,” said Merriam Community Development Director Bryan Dyer, “or some people will actually get in the median and walk down the middle of it. It really is a scary thing to see folks doing that.”
But thanks to newly announced funding from the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), Merriam has some money to start laying the groundwork for walkways and other improvements in that part of town.
The planning assistance is through the Creating Sustainable Places initiative, a MARC-led effort involving more than 60 partners, including local governments, nonprofits and business groups.
The land-use effort started two years ago with a $4.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. One goal of the initiative is facilitating better health by improving access to nutritious food and hiking/biking trails.
The $1.6 million in funding announced Oct. 24 included $750,000 from the federal grant, according to Dean Katerndahl, director of the regional council’s Government Innovations Forum. The remainder came from federal transportation funds allocated to Missouri and Kansas.
Eighteen of the 37 proposals earned funding through a formula that took into account factors such as local government support and local funding matches. One plan that tied for the top score would convert a former Kansas City, Mo., school into a hub for nonprofit agencies.
The new funding deviates from the regional council’s traditional practice of allocating transportation dollars solely for construction work, said Tom Gerend, assistant transportation director for the agency. Based in part on a similar effort in Atlanta, Gerend said, the agency is helping to fund the front-end planning to help ensure “smart” development on the back end.
As part of Creating Sustainable Places, officials are also studying how they can improve six highly traveled thoroughfares around the region. The stretches include parts of North Oak Trafficway in Kansas City, U.S. Highway 40 in Independence, and Metcalf Avenue in northern Johnson County.
Merriam is part of the corridor study that includes Shawnee Mission Parkway. The city is working on a nearly $200,000 plan that focuses on the portion of the parkway between Antioch Road and Eby Street.
One idea that sounds good, Dyer said, is creating a greenway with trails connecting city parks. And, he said, by getting people across the interstate, the city could connect them with the path running along Turkey Creek.
Then in the bigger picture, he said, Merriam’s trail system could connect with others in the region, including all the way into Kansas City, Mo.
“If all this happens,” Dyer said, “and it’s going to happen, there will actually be an opportunity for folks to use the path for things other than recreation. You could actually use the path for getting to work and things like that.”
As a founder and co-president of the Marlborough Community Coalition, Betty Ost-Everley also has big dreams for the old Marlborough school at 1300 E. 75th St.
She said the coalition views the old school as a cornerstone of its Catalyst Project for revitalizing the area between Troost Avenue and U.S. Highway 71 on the west and east, and by Gregory Boulevard and 87th Street on the north and south.
Common redevelopment ideas such as apartments and a community center did not energize Marlborough residents, Ost-Everley said.
“But the minute we started talking about a home for nonprofits,” she said, “boy everybody got really excited.”
Her wish list of occupants includes an urban farming group, some type of outlet to provide healthy food, and perhaps an arts organization to serve youth.
The MARC money will help the coalition develop a site plan for the school.
Though she does not know how the organization is going to raise the last $10,000 needed for the local match, let alone finance the purchase of the school, Ost-Everley said she would like to see the sale closed within the next year to 18 months.
“I know that’s aggressive,” she said, “especially for a little bitty organization like us.”