After 29 years leading the Southtown Council organization, Marti Lee retired last year. A new executive director, Sean Ackerson, joined Southtown Council earlier this year. He has an extensive planning and economic development background, most recently working for the City of Parkville. A graduate of Oklahoma State University, Sean and his family live in Rockhill Gardens. I stopped by his office recently and we chatted about what the Southtown Council is working on.
Do you have any goals you want to accomplish this year?
The Southtown Council overseas seven organizations: the Southtown Council, the Southtown Council Foundation, the Brookside Business Assn and it's CID; the Waldo Business Assn and it's CID and the Troost Ave CID. My goals are to continue doing what we do well and evaluate what we can do better. What should we be doing that we aren't doing? This is a strategic planning year. We want to end the year with a series of priorities for these seven organizations by looking at where we are and where we need to be.
Are there any current specific priorities?
We are working on more parking for Brookside; improving the entryway to Waldo, and improving the image of Troost Ave. We are also working on an art installation for the intersection of 85th and Wornall, the 75th and Wornall fountain improvements, and promoting the districts through public infrastructure improvements, not just through special events.
We are actively now working on the marketing aspect of the Troost Avenue district: most properties along 63rd St from Rockhill Road to Pener Plaza, and on Troost from Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd. We are trying to overcome the negative perception of the area you see on news reports. There are more businesses moving in and the areas along 63rd and Troost provide comparable opportunities to Westport and the Crossroads, but are currently more affordable. There are some really great storefronts and buildings with great bones, all within walking distance of housing, two universities and on a major transportation corridor.
Can you address the situation with the panhandlers at 85th and Wornall?
Each CID has private security that patrol the areas--they make in store visits, walk along the sidewalks and watch the intersections. They look for maintenance issues, places that are being made into shelters and they reach out to panhandlers to get them to move along. Panhandling is a concern for personal safety, and at 85th and Wornall, because of the stoplights and islands, it's easy to get close to the vehicles. We work through our private security and the police department to minimize panhandling.
Do you feel KCMO City Hall supports the efforts of Southtown Council?
It's my understanding City Hall has been a good partner. We have always actively engaged with City Hall regarding infrastructure improvements, like the new stoplights at Wornall and 63rd/Meyer. Another example is Waldo partnered with the City on a study of the 75th and Wornall intersection. There are a number of issues in that area: the offset intersection, conflicts between pedestrian and vehicle traffic, and the gap in the Trolley Trail. A three day workshop held in 2015 considered alternatives for improvements, and a plan was selected for putting 75th St on a 'road diet' . This plan would reconfigure the parking between 74th and 75th streets and connect the Trolley Trail along the east side of Wornall while reducing the number of lanes on 75th St from 4 to 3. Right now we are finalizing engineering plans and pursuing financing and grants. If all goes as planned, the project could begin in 2017.
I'm very grateful to Sean for taking the time to talk to me for this blog! Southtown Council is a great organization for our area--if you want to know more about how they work, attend one of their monthly lunches, become a member, or just stop by their office at 6814 Troost. For a very small office (Sean and three staff people) -- they accomplish a lot for Brookside/Waldo/Troost businesses.