In Merriam, candidates cite floodplain in historic downtown as among biggest challenges facing city

The Turkey Creek floodplain continues to pose one of the biggest challenges to the revitalization of downtown Merriam, candidates running for city office said during a forum Wednesday.

The event, hosted by the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce and the Shawnee Mission Post, was held at the Irene B. French Community Center, a building whose future figures prominently into the issues the city will have to address in the coming years. With voters’ approval of a new, $30 million community and aquatic center on the Varva Memorial Park grounds, demand for the French Center’s facilities will effectively dry up. Water issues in its lowest level tied to its proximity to Turkey Creek will make maintenance of the building, which opened in the early 1900s as a school, extremely expensive. David Neal, an engineer by training, said he’d conducted an assessment of the facility, and didn’t believe the issues with the center were as bad as many had claimed. He suggested the original part of the building could be turned into a co-work space. Miles, on the other hand, said the city shouldn’t invest “another dime” in the French Center, and should look to other uses for the land. Newkirk said she was very excited about the idea of building an amphitheater on the site that would tie in to the nearby Merriam Marketplace.

Current members of the council, however, stressed that there needed to be a deliberate process to explore how the French Center and its land might be repurposed.

(Read more: Shawnee Mission Post – Neighborhood news and events for northeast Johnson County)