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Independence developers look to restore downtown square

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- They're turning back the clocks in one Jackson County city.

Economic developers in Independence want to invest in the city's downtown square, hoping to restore it to its past prominence. Business leaders in the city's center are planning to use money from the city's operating budget to revamp the square, and potentially, fuel the city's future.

If this plan works, Independence's town square could return to being the center of attention. City leaders could begin the revitalization within the next four weeks, providing new core infrastructure, meant to bring business back to Main Street. A number of mom-and-pop businesses, most of them locally owned, surround the courthouse, and their owners seem excited by the potential.

"(At local shops) You're dealing with, more than likely, the business owner," Tom Waters, who owns family-operated Corporate Copy Print, has made the downtown square his business home for 14 years.

Waters is also the chairman of the Independence Chamber of Commerce Square Development Group, which plans to open its reboot of the square with a new farmer's market.

"We're not going to wait for all that red tape and the years of planning that sometimes, stymies momentum. We're anxious to get moving with some of these things. That's what we're saying to our citizens," Waters told FOX 4 News on Tuesday.

Independence merchants complain their city has a bad image, one that centers around crime instead of commerce. Crime statistics show Independence, home to roughly 110,000 people, has a crime rate that's nearly twice the Missouri average.

"That's not what Independence is. It's a beautiful place with great tradition, great legacy, great people. We're anxious to change that perception," Waters said.

Other provisions in the plan call for improved sidewalks, more landscaping and smoother roads, and economic developers say existing money from the city's operational budget will pay for, rather than asking the public for new tax dollars.

"Just today, I've been stopped by half-dozen people alone, saying they're excited about what's happening on the Independence square," Mike Sanders, local attorney, said.

Sanders, who spent a decade serving as Jackson County Executive, now works for a law firm in Independence, having left politics behind. Sanders says he's helping Independence capitalize on its history, including its ties to President Harry S. Truman, to build a fruitful future. He wants to see the square lined with more local merchants who will serve millennials and their families.

"I want to know the person I buy my meat from and my vegetables from. I want to know that individual. It's that direct service level that occurs on a local level like this you can't get at a Wal-Mart Superstore," Sanders said.

Sanders says over $50 million has been invested in the downtown square over the past 20 years, but there's still room for more. He says the city polled residents, 89 percent of whom spoke in favor of investing in downtown area.