Unified Commissioner Jane Winkler Philbrook recently convened a public hearing at Trinity Community Church seeking comments from persons living and working along the Leavenworth Road Corridor. The Leavenworth Road Association helped co-sponsor the meeting.
About 60 persons including community leaders attended the meeting along with several senior staff members from the Unified Government.
Some of the comments at this hearing were probably similar to those that I might have heard in the mid-1980s when the Leavenworth Road Association was established—the need for stricter code enforcement and more retail selection.
In the late 1950s, the first suburban shopping center—Sunset Plaza—was developed in Wyandotte County. Those who built the center told me that the plan was to make Leavenworth Road a four-lane highway—that was one of the main reasons that the center was developed.
When I was doing research for the 1950s book on Wyandotte County, I found a consulting engineer’s study that suggested a master road plan for Wyandotte County. That plan didn’t look much different from what the roadways are today, except that Leavenworth Road remains two lanes.
Leavenworth Road was widened from 91st Street to I-435 as part of the development of The Woodlands. Now, because of changes in gambling laws, the horse and dog track are empty. And there has been limited development at the I-435 and Leavenworth Road intersection.
Long term it could make sense to widen Leavenworth Road starting at 91st Street, and proceeding east over a period of several years as part of the Unified Government’s capital maintenance improvement plan.
Several years ago, I heard plans of a scenic four-lane highway that would basically follow K-5 and link the Quindaro Ruins through the Nearman and Wolcott bottoms into Leavenworth County and end at Ft. Leavenworth. The Missouri Valley provides beautiful scenery and follows a historic trail. Wyandotte County and Leavenworth County officials and private-sector leaders briefly discussed the need for K-5 improvements when they developed the K-7 economic feasibility plan a few years ago.
The K-5 improvement would be a long-term project. In the meantime, the Leavenworth Road Association is dealing with today’s challenges. Lou Braswell, the association’s executive director, points with pride about the renewed interest in quality retail along the corridor. An Advance Auto Parts store is being built at the east end of the Sunset Plaza Shopping Center, replacing a restaurant that had several owners and operators. Major drug store chains are looking at the area. And a first-class private-sector event center is being built near the entrance of Wyandotte County Lake. Braswell is also keenly aware of residents’ concerns about public safety and code violations.
Public officials in the late 1950s failed to widen Leavenworth Road and that continues to limit the area’s growth. Conversely the widening of State Avenue and Parallel Parkway helps spur development along those corridors.
Commissioner Philbrook, as a new public official, was well advised to hold that public hearing. That spirit of cooperation needs to continue as the Leavenworth Road area realizes its opportunities.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.