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Floodplain impacts downtown growth in Merriam

Posted at 8:02 PM, Nov 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-01 21:02:56-04

MERRIAM, Kan. — As downtown areas in other cities thrive, downtown Merriam is staying stagnant. The historical area sits on a floodplain, keeping new tenants from redeveloping.

Rick Williams has been operating an instrument accessory shop in downtown Merriam for decades.

The business owner will never forget the flood in downtown in 1998.

"There was 18 inches or so of water in here,” said Williams.

A flood that triggered the city to make a change. The City of Merriam partnered with the Army Corps of Engineers and proposed a project to fix the problem.

The city has its portion of the funds ready, but the project has yet to get the federal funding needed to complete it. The project has been passed over many times.

"Ultimately, it scores poorly against larger projects that you usually find on the coast so you're competing with Houston, Miami, New Orleans things like that,” said Chris Engel, Merriam City Administrator.

Now, as neighboring suburban downtowns are experiencing revitalization, Merriam struggles to bring in new business.

"We get potential tenants that say 'Hey, I want to move in downtown.' We've had breweries that want to come down there and redevelop in downtown because it kind of has a funky feel and it's walkable,” said Engel, "It just becomes cost prohibitive once we explain to them that 'Hey, you are in a flood plain these are the things you would need to do' it just becomes easier for them to go somewhere else.”

Most of the businesses downtown have been there for years and are not the type that needs foot traffic to survive.

But Engel knows some residents are seeking something different.

"It's the residents we hear from that want a more walkable downtown, and perhaps want a different mix of retail down there,” said Engel.

Engel says despite years of being passed up, they are still holding out some hope that the project will still receive the federal funding needed. However, he is realistic that if there comes a time where residents become more vocal about wanting a change, the city may have to consider other options to fix the problem.