Council Members Mike Huff and Mike Steinmeyer criticized the idea of choosing “pet projects” over additional public safety spending.
“We’re trying to use as much funding as we can that won’t encompass normal city funding,” Perkins said. “That’s always been the idea of downtown development.”
The Square Streetscapes project centers around the Truman Courthouse and surrounding blocks. It involves possibly changing some blocks from one-way to two-way and vice versa; altering some parking alignments; improving sidewalks, curbs and drainage; adding landscaping such as trees or bushes; and putting in a bicycle path on half of the Square, as part of the Truman Connected project.
Square Streetscapes was identified as a possible project for downtown redevelopment by an earlier citizen group that gathered more than a dozen mothballed project plans from decades past. A group of council members and citizens has tried to build off that work, and in March the council approved design contracts of more than $500,000 for both the Square Streetscapes and another project.
The plan also includes $1.4 million for police retention bonuses, along with more than $400,000 for hiring incentives and protective equipment. One council member proposed scrapping the Square money for a variety of additional police investments, but that motion didn’t get majority support.
Council Member John Perkins, who helped pushed for Square money, said improving Square infrastructure has long been discussed, and the ARPA stimulus money presented a way to help fund a project that technically is in the works.
Truman Connected is a pedestrian and bike path ultimately meant to go from the Truman Library & Museum to the stadiums of the Truman Sports Complex.
Designs for the two projects are due late this year, and the council will decide whether to move forward with construction.
“We spent almost half-million between those two design contracts,” Perkins said. “If we’re not doing anything with it, we would be throwing money away. This is just the natural next step; we’re just lining up our funding sources.” Keeping the Square funding, Perkins said, is not an “either-or” with public safety. Some stimulus funds are going to public safety, and there are continued funding sources for both police and fire, he said, along with two ballot measures in November under which voters could approve more direct funding.
The streetscape project is estimated to cost about $3 million total. Besides the federal stimulus funds, street sales tax money, annual Community Development Block Grant funds and tax increment financing funds would cover the balance. By using ARPA funds, Perkins said, it means less streets sales tax and CDBG funds necessary. Jeff Rogers, president of Independence Square Association, told the council that investing in the Square helps those who have recently invested in the area, including during the pandemic. Rogers said nine new businesses in the Square started during the pandemic, and owners continued to invest in existing businesses, and public investment not only appeals to those owners but to tourists and other visitors, as well.
“As other surrounding cities continue to invest in their downtowns, we need to be doing the same,” Rogers said.