Planning meeting

Brandon Kanoy, right, and Sara Wilson, left facing, discuss ways to improve St. Joseph during a community engagement session Wednesday at the Remington Nature Center. The information will be used in guiding development of a St. Joseph Comprehensive Plan.

On a crisp autumn evening, the setting sun paints the horizon with pink and purple hues along the Missouri River in St. Joseph.

It’s a view that’s fit for a postcard. For a number of St. Joseph workers, it’s something they’re more likely to see in a postcard than with their own eyes. Inside the Remington Nature Center, as the day fades away, a group of citizens gathered this week to find ways to change that dynamic and make the city more inviting to current residents and potential new arrivals.

“There’s just a lot of really great opportunities,” said Sara Wilson, executive director of the St. Joseph Museums. “We’re at the cusp of tremendous change. I am excited about the future and excited to be in the room with a lot of people that care about St. Joseph.”

That’s an optimistic and hopeful assessment, one that brought more than 20 people to the Remington Nature Center to give insight into the development of a St. Joseph Comprehensive Plan. On the surface, a comprehensive plan can be a technical document that covers issues like land use and transportation infrastructure. But it’s also a broader guide for development and vision, leading to a discussion on longer-range goals for St. Joseph in the 21st century.

One overriding goal centers on making St. Joseph a more attractive place to live. The 10-year census showed a 5% population loss in St. Joseph from 2010 to 2020, with 4,300 fewer people calling the city their home at the end of the decade.

This is the less-optimistic picture. Amy Haase, a principal at RDG Planning & Design, said the data shows that 24,000 people come to St. Joseph to work on a given day. Then they leave, sometimes to go to nearby communities like Country Club Village or Savannah, but other times to more far-flung locations in the Kansas City metro.

Haase, whose company is consulting with the city on the plan’s development, said the number of commuters “is a bit higher” than what she sees in other cities.

She said the city may not lose sales tax revenue if those commuters shop here, but something is missed in terms of engagement with volunteer organizations and local schools.

“What are the things we need to have in the community to make sure that we’re continuing to attract young households?” Hasse said. “Those things around entertainment that they might be looking for, but also how schools and child care and all of those things play into the decisions that we make.”

Those who attended the meeting Wednesday, including state Rep. Dean Van Schoiack and mayoral candidate John Josendale, weren’t at a loss for ideas surrounding community image, riverfront development and the future of Interstate 229.

Wilson said she’d like to see a focus on the improvements that would appeal to children and bring more young families to St. Joseph.

“I think we definitely need to invest in our amenities,” she said. “If you look at other cities like Springfield, St. Louis or Omaha, they’re spending millions of dollars investing in attractions that will draw tourism to their community, as well as have really nice amenities to attract more people to come and live,” she said.

Haase said her goal is for people to get excited about the possibilities.

The Planning Commission and City Council are likely to vote on a comprehensive plan next year.

Greg Kozol can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowKozol.

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