Gardner is home to economic growth, prosperity, Winters says
The annual State of the City luncheon on Thursday not just celebrated Gardner’s ongoing economic development and housing growth in 2022, but the why behind the city’s continued ability to prosper into 2023.
Focusing on the theme, “Gardner is Home,” Gardner Mayor Todd Winters discussed the city’s 2022 accomplishments and improvements, but also gave a glimpse at plans for the growing community.
“When we think of home, we relate it to a place where one lives, and Gardner is truly home for many,” he said.
Over time, the city has grown from nearly 3,200 residents in 1990 to about 24,000 in 2023, making it the fourth fastest-growing city in Kansas. Winters credited that growth to the city’s commitment to economic development and its efforts to attract and keep businesses. By doing so, Gardner has diversified its tax base and provided access to more jobs, making it an ideal destination for business development.
“This is an exciting time for Gardner with economic growth because we know more businesses and more resources provide better for our community,” he said. “Yes, we are home, because we are open for business.”
Winters focused on five key areas: leadership, economic development, infrastructure, quality of life and fiscal stewardship, noting how each has played a role in the city’s secret to success.
Winters said the city continues to be an ideal location for new businesses, especially the 15 that opened, expanded or were currently in development, from Panda Express and AutoSoak Car Wash to Ash and Anvil Cigar Lounge, Transport Brewery, Gardner Liquor Store and Frontier Credit Union. Last year, the city issued 1,163 total building and improvement project permits, reflecting a valuation of $113.2 million in private investment.
Winter also noted Cosentino’s was working on rehabbing the former Price Chopper store location into three to four new retail spaces.
“We hope to have new businesses that will relocate there soon,” he said.
Winters also highlighted a $200 million, 262-acre mixed-use development located at Interstate 35 and 175th Street. Once completed, the development will feature 792 housing units, consisting of 424 apartments, 200 standard single-family and 168 compact single-family homes. The development agreement, he said, also includes about 455,500 square feet of retail, restaurant, convenience store, office and service space, an anchor retailer and limited-service hotels.
He also noted how the contributions of the new Panasonic development in DeSoto will also benefit Gardner due to its close proximity.
Winters also discussed how the city has continued to improve the quality of life for residents. Among those improvements were expanding leisure programs and activities for youth and adults, advancing the city’s parks and trails system and implementing the city’s first inclusive playground to create a space for children and families of all abilities. He also noted strengthening training efforts for Gardner police officers and continuing the outreach programs and initiatives provided by the Gardner Police Department to foster relationships between the community and the police.
Winters also highlighted the successes of the police department, including filling all open positions, the hiring of new police chief Pam Waldeck and increasing the wages of sworn officers.
“Safety remains a top priority for our residents,” he said. “Gardner has consistently ranked as one of the safest places in Kansas. We can largely attribute that success to the extraordinary efforts of the Gardner Police Department. It is not just the work they do in the field, but the work they do behind the scenes.”
Other successes in 2022 were also recognized by the city’s finance department. Through their expertise, Winters said, the city coordinated a five-year capital improvement program, allowing officials to address significant city projects, while cost-effectively planning for growth. He also noted the city’s grant successes in 2022, securing more than $3.3 million in current and future grant funding. Those funds, Winters said, helped support city and community initiatives while offsetting costs to taxpayers.
Other successes included completing the debt issuance of general obligation bonds to support infrastructure improvements and refund debt obligations, maintaining a AA-credit rating and having a clean audit.
As city leaders, their mission, Winters said, was to partner with residents, businesses and stakeholders to transform Gardner into a thriving and prosperous community. He added their hearts bleed for their city because Gardner is home.
“There is a common phrase that says, ‘Home is where the heart is,’” he said. “That means your home will always be where you show your deepest affection, no matter where you are.”