By Jeff Fox
With the renovation and reopening of the Truman Courthouse completed last month, Jackson County officials are turning their attention to the next major project in Independence – renovating the Courthouse Annex a couple of blocks away.
That could mean more judges and courtrooms. Most Circuit Court judges remain at the main Courthouse downtown, though about half of the county’s population now lives in Eastern Jackson County.
“What do we do with the annex?” County Executive Mike Sanders said at Wednesday’s Independence Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon.
Sanders offered no specific timetable but said the county plans to pursue the same strategy it used on the $7 million Courthouse project: begin setting aside money, without raising taxes or issuing bonds, as plans are drawn up, and then move when everything is in place. He said that involves making assumptions about the regional economy – he characterized it as volatile – and prudently projecting tax revenues.
“So we think more than at any other time it just makes sense to pay cash for this project,” he said.
The building, facing Kansas Avenue between Osage and Spring streets, dates to the 1970s. Sanders said it’s not much to look at from the outside and the exterior needs to be improved.
“It was probably undersized when it was built. It’s certainly undersized today,” he said.
The main thing, he said, is to look at the county’s needs 20, 30, even 40 years down the road. Officials have for years talked of the need to add judges in Independence. Restoring the Courthouse involved moving collections and other county offices out of the annex, opening up space for eventual renovations.
Sanders also said the region has to have a major discussion about mass transit – he suggested resolving that within two years – as Kansas City decides what it’s going to look like in the decades ahead and how it’s going to make itself appealing to young people who might consider living here.
His own plan for a commuter rail system, unveiled four years ago, has been on the shelf for much of 2013, but said an announcement on that is coming “in the not-too-distant future.”
“And mass transit is something we have to think about. ... If we don’t do it, we’re going to lose market share,” he said.
He and others have long argued that young people are shifting to lifestyles not centered on cars. They are looking for urban living with readily available transit, he said.
“For them, that’s the new world,” he said.
He said the issue even came up during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium last year.
“The number one complaint was that you can’t get anywhere in your city,” he said.
He also touched on other topics:
• He’s not been involved in the talks to essentially rebuild Kansas City International Airport, also a key piece of the transit puzzle and key to attracting businesses, conventions and other events. The airport is run by Kansas City and is in Platte County. His two cents’ worth, he said, is that it needs to be convenient and needs to be modernized.
But he suggested that the current plan – with a $1.5 billion price – “just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
• Asked if there’s any renewed interest in a rolling roof for Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums, he said no one is pushing the idea. Several years the ago the idea came up during discussions that led to the voter approval in 2006 of renovations to the two stadiums. Making Arrowhead capable of functioning as an indoor stadium was seen as a way to land a Super Bowl or an NCAA men’s basketball Final Four.
The renovations are paid for through a three-eighths-cent county sales tax. The rolling roof would have been another eighth of a cent, and officials decided not to go ahead with putting that on the ballot. The idea is dead now, Sanders said.
“At some point you have to get to the point where you prioritize what you spend your money on,” he said.