In Clay and Platte counties‚ residents have the best of both worlds.
The bright lights of Kansas City are just minutes away. But closer to home‚ the 10 smaller Northland cities feature downtowns of their own‚ with shopping‚ dining‚ culture and history. “We have so many flavors in our region‚” says Sheila Tracy‚ president of the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“There’s a different ambiance within each community. We encourage them to have their own personality. That’s what gives us so many dimensions in our region. “We are here to help promote the region‚” adds Tracy‚ who has been with the Northland chamber for 13 of its 15 years of existence. “If the region is successful‚ [the communities will] get visitors and new residents to enjoy their own individual flair. We’ve become so significant as a region – all of the areas have benefited from that over recent years.” Local officials are tackling the task of preserving the charm and heritage of the downtown areas while overseeing their revitalization and development. Historic Parkville‚ with its distinctive shops‚ antique stores and top-notch restaurants‚ has much for locals and tourists to enjoy. The Power Plant Restaurant & Brewery is located downtown in the former Park College Power Plant‚ which dates to the early 1900s. The campus of Park University also is an attraction.
Weston‚ founded in 1837‚ was once the second-largest port on the Missouri River. Today‚ the Pirtle Winery‚ housed in what was once a German Lutheran Evangelical Church building‚ and other eateries and shops – many in pre-Civil War-era structures – keep the town thriving. In Riverside‚ Mayor Kathleen Rose‚ elected in April 2006‚ is carrying on a family tradition of community service. Rose’s mother‚ Betty Burch‚ was mayor for 18 years before suffering a stroke. She is recovering well‚ Rose says. Riverside‚ population 3‚000‚ is small‚ yet it has significant challenges and opportunities. “We’re not very big‚ but we’re very unique‚” says Rose‚ who was a city employee for 25 years. “We’re a small town with big-city issues. Because we have the revenue from the Argosy Casino‚ we are able to develop and redevelop our city.” Since the casino opened in 1994‚ Rose says‚ more than $50 million has been spent in Riverside on capital improvements‚ including a public safety building‚ city hall‚ community center‚ parks‚ streets and even a new U.S. post office.
Recent projects have included a highway interchange and a levee. In addition‚ a master plan for the city is being formulated in 2006. Excelsior Springs is another North land community balancing its past with modern goals. “Excelsior Springs is one of those very-rich-in-history kind of communities‚” says City Manager Darren Hennen. And during the city’s 125th anniversary in 2005‚ local leaders began determining ways to boost tourism. “In the last year or so‚ we’ve rebranded the downtown as the Hall of Waters Historic District‚ with the 1937 Hall of Waters building as the centerpiece‚” Hennen says. The building houses the world’s longest water bar‚ mineral baths‚ municipal offices and a cultural museum that opens in September 2006. In Liberty‚ the new Partnership for Community Growth & Development is working to boost economic development to enhance the quality of life‚ says Alicia Stephens‚ executive director. The partnership and the city want to spur growth – but not at the expense of the city’s special character. Working toward that end‚ a group called Historic Downtown Liberty has completed a master plan for downtown. “Liberty is very proud of its past and the character it has‚” Stephens says. “We want to maintain that as we help it grow.”