Archive for Thursday, January 15, 2004

Shouts and Murmurs: The old hometown’s changing

January 15, 2004

With the start of each new year, we see a Tonganoxie that is different from the year before, and vastly different from a few years back.

With the changes that have taken place in the last decade, it's clear that Tonganoxie is no longer the quiet, and sometimes nearly forgotten, little town it used to be.

That's obvious in last summer's U.S. Census report, which showed Tonganoxie to be the third-fastest growing town in Kansas.

And it's every bit as obvious when considering the real estate market.

Just five years ago, available homes were few and far between. Unlike today, there was no row upon row of new houses. It was a seller's market, one in which a word on the grapevine could net as many phone calls as a "house for sale" sign in the front yard. Realtors were helpful, but not necessary, to sell a house.

Those were the days when Tonganoxie wore its lone stoplight like a comfortable pair of boots. Rush hour traffic was something that happened in other towns. And, especially for those who liked things just the way they were, heaven forbid Tonganoxie would take on a much postponed adolescent growth spurt. It hadn't happened in 100 years -- why should it happen now.

Those who have long called Tonganoxie their home may recall that in 1998, U.S. 24-40's expansion into a four-lane highway between Tonganoxie and Basehor was completed. Almost instantly, this corridor opened the pipeline to the greater Kansas City area.

About that time, the city of Tonganoxie annexed large tracts of land.

The developers who bought the land were looked upon as risk-taking entrepreneurs. They made tremendous investments in land and infrastructure long before the first lot could be sold.

In the midst of these early stages, developers seemed a little edgy when talking about the financing of their projects. After all, at that time Tonganoxie was an unknown risk. They could plat the ground and build the roads, but would the builders want to put homes on them. And more importantly, would people be willing to move from the city, or to Tonganoxie rather than to the city, to live in them?

As the city of Tonganoxie finished installing new streets, sidewalks and street lamps downtown, the rumbling sound from the east was just beginning.

Kansas Speedway opened in 2001, a mere 12 miles east of Tonganoxie. The next year, Cabela's outfitters settled in just outside the racetrack's back door. By then, pillars of steel were rising where Nebraska Furniture Mart -- one of the largest furniture stores in the country -- would open in the summer of 2003. Next was the Great Wolf Lodge, with more businesses -- and of course more jobs -- planned to come along soon.

Tonganoxie was just in time. New homes and duplexes were ready for the taking. Builders working on spec homes have reported they've sold homes long before the hammering of the last nail.

Since the start of 1999, the city of Tonganoxie has issued 387 permits for new construction.

It's an amazing road we're on. As we plunge into this new year, we can only hope that the unstoppable growth will somehow be positive -- that Tonganoxie can retain its identity in the midst of growth -- and that the growth will bring positive, not negative, influences into the community.

And through it all, looking ahead into the years, we can only hope that Tonganoxie will long remain a place where the people who live here and near here are glad to call it home.

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