Just win, baby…
We’ve all heard that one. And so it is that deceased former Merriam Mayor Irene French‘s autobiographical-like obituary boasts of having “accomplished” the Baron BMW car complex and the Merriam Town Center shopping mall.
All of which is largely true, but at what price?
The 86 year-old French enjoyed a 20 year reign as mayor of term limitless Merriam, but she went out with a bang…and not necessarily a good one.
“Turmoil recalled as dealership holds opening,” reads the headline in the Star, announcing Baron BMW’s completion in October of 2000.
“To some people in Merriam, the new Baron BMW dealership that sits impressively on a hillside off Shawnee Mission Parkway and Interstate 35 is an example of the fruits of the city’s redevelopment efforts. To others, it is a prominent reminder of what some residents have labeled an abuse of power by city hall.”
“That was French’s only fault in my eyes,” says hard-rocking, former Merriam councilman Dan Leap. “She used condemnation for two different deals. She used it for Baron BMW – which was totally wrong. If she’d just kept government out of private business, it would have all worked out.”
Here’s how it went down:
“When negotiations between Baron and (real estate owners William and Laverne Gross) reached an impasse, Baron asked the city to consider using eminent domain powers to acquire the property for redevelopment purposes,” the Star continued. “The city agreed and eventually received title to the land. The title subsequently was turned over to Baron, which paid Gross $1 million.
“The city’s action created a tide of outrage among some residents in the city. In the April 1999 election, voters turned out four veteran council members in favor of four political newcomers. The controversy over the Baron BMW property acquisition was seen as a major contributor to the council upheaval.”
“She didn’t run for reelection after her term was up after the Baron BMW fiasco,” he says. “Probably because she knew she would get beat. It was a big deal in Merriam and it was a serious blow to her reputation.”
Ditto – to a lesser degree – for the shopping center.
“She used condemnation for Merriam Town Center too,” Leap says. “I don’t remember if the people there wanted to move and got paid what they wanted or not, but she used condemnation and it wasn’t for something like a public road going through there or a public use. It was for the developer of the shopping center, the same fuckers who owned the land Ikea is building on. And they used public money to build the Merriam Village that Ikea just tore down.”
But who really remembers much about any of that now?