Proposed Partnership Would Turn Vacant Independence, Mo., Building into Tech Center

Many on the Council for Economic Development think the building will be a great place for a technology and small business center.

by Mike Genet, The Examiner, Independence, Mo. / January 25, 2017

(TNS) -- When the Independence Utilities Center opened late last year on 23rd Street near R.D. Mize Road in a former medical office building, the city also now had a vacant building on its hands.

The Water Department offices and a customer service center had been at the northwest corner of Truman Road and Forest Avenue. Tom Lesnak, president of the Independence Council for Economic Development, believes that building is ideal for a technology and small business center.

In a presentation Monday to the City Council, Lesnak proposed a partnership with the city to repurpose what he calls the "Blu Building." It sits on the opposite corner from the EDC's Ennovation Center, in the former hospital building that also houses the Independence School District central offices.

The proposal includes a renovation of about $200,000 to update the building - which is about 10,000 square feet and was built in 1964 - and the city would retain ownership while the EDC would manage it during a five-year, no-cost lease. The EDC would provide business support services, and the city's operating expenses would be phased out toward the EDC over the five years. The city would continue to provide gigabit internet service to the building.

The EDC's goal, Lesnak said, is to build on the momentum of the Ennovation Center's business-technology incubator. Some start-ups are ready for more growth before striking out into their own space, but the Ennovation Center's biz-tech portion - the center also has food start-ups - is at capacity. All told, the Blu Building could provide functional workspace for about 50-75 people.

"The Ennovation Center has limitations," Lesnak said. "We provide hands-on service, but this is for businesses a little further down the line."

Lesnak said funding possibilities could include Missouri Technology Corporation grant money, city enterprise funds that have paid for the building in years past, and Community Development Block Grant funds. Last year, the Independence City Council approved $600,000 in CDGB funds as incentive for an estimated $2.4 million building that would be a food-grade manufacturing facility for the EDC. But no private developer materialized, and the money was remitted back to the city, Lesnak said.

STRATEGIC PLAN: City Manager Zach Walker outlined the Strategic Plan 2017-2021 that likely will be approved by resolution next week by the City Council. Walker, new assistant city managers Lauren Palmer and Mark Randall and the city staff had spent the past couple months compiling the plan, and Mayor Eileen Weir and the council had invited the public to attend Monday's meeting, resulting in unusually full council chambers for a study session.

©2017 The Examiner, Independence, Mo. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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