The past year has been a whirlwind of events — Sedalia’s retail industry is booming, monuments have been constructed and torn down, and sales tax issues have made more than a few local headlines.
Sedalia leadership has once again changed hands, with newcomer Vicky Collins defeating Sedalia Ward 4 Councilman Larry Stevenson in April’s municipal election, the City of Sedalia taking over operations at the Sedalia Animal Shelter and Bothwell Regional Health Center naming a new CEO in the last few weeks of the year.
News in 2015 has made it past the pages of the Democrat and was launched into the regional and national spotlight with the month-long hunt for a kidnapper and murderer and a devastating fire Thanksgiving Day.
The following are the top 10 stories of 2015 as selected by Democrat staff.
1. James B. Horn Jr. kidnaps, kills woman
On April 30, Sandra Sutton escaped captivity in a homemade wooden box at the home of James Horn Jr. on East 15th Street. She told Sedalia Police Department officers she had been kept there since January. Horn immediately fled the area, and law enforcement worked to track him down for weeks. Then on May 21, Sutton and her son, Zachary Sutton, were found dead at a Clinton residence where they had been staying with family members — Horn was the main suspect.
Horn was believed to be in the Sedalia area after the murders, which prompted a standoff with the Missouri State Highway Patrol for hours outside Horn’s home; Horn was not found that day. Just a few days later, Horn was shot and killed by law enforcement in a vacant home in the Kearn Memorial Wildlife Area near Green Ridge, ending an almost month-long manhunt.
2. Thanksgiving fire destroys homes
While most Sedalia residents were enjoying a turkey dinner, a fire broke out at a multi-family home in the 500 block of West Fourth Street. Strong wind gusts, a vacant back lot creating a wind tunnel, low water pressure, leaf fires and holiday staffing levels all contributed to the blaze spreading to three other homes.
Eventually almost every member of the Sedalia Fire Department was on hand, as well as most of the Pettis County Fire District, plus Sedalia Police Department officers and members of the Pettis County Ambulance District. About seven hours later, the fire was extinguished, leaving three homes destroyed and one home damaged. SFD Deputy Chief Greg Harrell said he had “never seen anything like this in my career.”
Sedalia residents banded together though, providing water and sandwiches for first responders on scene and local organizations and individuals aided the families affected by the fire in the following days.
3. New businesses locate to Sedalia
2015 was a year of growth for Sedalia with the addition of several new businesses. Anytime Fitness, Yummy’s Donuts, Get Fit Sedalia, Eclectic Color Salon, Miracle Massage, Spoiled Rotten and Shepard’s Place, which reopened in June, joined the downtown Sedalia community. Kohl’s and Hobby Lobby, both highly anticipated by citizens, were constructed on the west side of city limits, with Hobby Lobby set to open in mid-February.
Some businesses weren’t new to town, but they underwent some changes. Waterloo Industries Inc. survived another corporate restructuring, leaving it the last plant standing and being named Waterloo Headquarters. Patricia’s Mexican and More closed its doors on Limit Avenue after more than 20 years, but the building was soon occupied by El Tapatio, which relocated from its smaller Broadway Boulevard location.
4. Jennie Jaynes Stadium demolished
After 62 years of wins and losses, homecoming coronations and thousands of Tiger fans cheering their teams to victory, the legacy of Jennie Jaynes Stadium came to an end this summer. The Sedalia Park Board voted to demolish the stadium in July, which was purchased by the Parks and Recreation Department from the Sedalia School District 200 last year once construction began on the new Smith-Cotton Stadium.
Residents were given the opportunity to tour the stadium, although not many did, before the stadium came tumbling down in mid-July and demolition was completed not long after it started.
The stadium may be gone, but it is making way for an upcoming community center, which could be constructed in the next few years.
5. City, county must pay back sales tax
After a local unnamed business found a tax loophole a few years ago, the City of Sedalia, Pettis County and State of Missouri must now pay back a combined roughly $6 million over a three-year period to the Department of Revenue, which will then return the money to the business.
City Administrator Gary Edwards said the city owes almost $2 million, and Pettis County Presiding Commissioner David Dick said the county owes about $830,000. Since City of Sedalia voters passed the new use tax in August, taxpayers won’t see the benefits of the use tax revenue for three years, but it prevented significant cuts to the current and upcoming city budgets.
6. TIF district approved in Sedalia
The highly controversial TIF district barely passed with a 6-2 vote from the Sedalia City Council during the Nov. 23 meeting. Even though council approved the proposal, many Sedalians are unhappy with the decision, as was the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Commission, which voted 9-2 against the proposal in late October.
A TIF district is a financing and development tool that uses taxes generated by new development to pay for costs of construction of public infrastructure and other improvements. The new TIF district in Sedalia includes two parcels of “blighted” land, both on U.S. Highway 50: land in front of the Econo Lodge and behind the Galaxy Theater.
Star Acquisitions Inc. is proposing to spend about $11.1 million to develop the property for retail, restaurant and other commercial uses, with estimated completion in December 2016.
7. Sedalia Animal Shelter progresses slowly
It’s been a long year for the Sedalia Animal Shelter, and the road to a new building still isn’t finished yet. After environmental hazards were found at the original site last year, construction finally started this summer, however the building still isn’t complete and there is no set completion date.
Financial donor Sue Heckart originally thought the project would be complete by July 1, but instead something else happened that day — the City of Sedalia took over operations of the Sedalia Animal Shelter, hiring a new manager employed by SPD.
Then in October, the city and the former Sedalia Animal Shelter Board disputed who was the rightful owner of a $334,000 donation to the shelter in 2014. The board claimed the money belonged to them and would be used to spay and neuter cats, while the city argued it should be used for the new shelter.
8. Pettis County receives record rain
After almost a month straight of rain in June, Sedalia and Pettis County were declared disaster areas in July. A strong storm July 1 brought torrential rain and high winds to the area, flooding streets, intersections and washing out some bridges throughout Sedalia and Pettis County, prompting city and county officials to declare a state of emergency.
Even Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in mid-June due to high rain levels across the state. Sedalia and Pettis County didn’t see quite as much rain as other parts of the state and country, but Flash Flood warnings and watches were issued multiple times throughout the summer, especially in June.
The high rain levels affected many construction projects in Sedalia, as well as Pettis County farmers’ land.
9. Drug deal ends in homicide
Late July 24, a local teenager was killed after being shot near a Sedalia residence near West Cooper Street and South Missouri Avenue.
Brian J. Young, 34, was arrested two days later for the alleged homicide of 16-year-old Andrew Meyers, which SPD Cmdr. Adam Hendricks called a “drug deal gone bad.” SPD was seeking charges of second degree murder, armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon against Young after witnesses came forward with information.
However, Young was released after charges weren’t filed by Pettis County Prosecutor Phillip Sawyer during the 24-hour holding period.
Sawyer told the Democrat in September he had received additional information from SPD regarding the investigation, as he had requested, and would continue reviewing the case. Charges have still not been filed.
10. Bothwell gets new board members, CEO
Bothwell Regional Health Center has had many ups and downs in 2015, which marked its 85th anniversary. It started new practices and partnerships, such as the new Bothwell Urology Services with urologist Dr. Kerri Barnes and a partnership with University of Missouri Health and local orthopedic surgeons Douglas W. Kiburz, M.D, and Ryan Kelly Edwards, M.D.
The BRHC Board of Trustees got three new faces in June as appointed by Mayor Stephen Galliher, but they were not well received — former Chairman Glen Nelson and former Vice Chairman Mary Nell Strautman submitted their letters of resignation after the board’s September meeting. Strautman cited those three appointments — Larry Foster, Cam Jennings and Peggy Van Dyke — as a large part of her departure.
Joyce Foster was appointed in October and Brody Kempton in November to fill the vacancies.
Good news continued in November when BRHC President and CEO John Dawes was awarded the Missouri Hospital Association’s Visionary Leadership Award for 2015, but Dawes resigned after 13 years in early December without stating future plans. CFO Jimmy Robertson was named CEO last week.
Honorable Mention: New monuments get mixed reactions
Two new monuments were constructed in Sedalia this year, but citizens were more supportive of Trail’s End than the new gateway to downtown Sedalia on Ohio Avenue.
After three years of planning, fundraising and construction, the Trail’s End monument, which honors Sedalia’s history as a train and cattle town, was dedicated April 25 — almost exactly one year after the groundbreaking — on the Missouri State Fairgrounds, commemorated by a weekend-long event that attracted cowboys and horse-lovers from across the country.
Even after the dedication, crews continued to work on a parking area and a bridge from the plaza to the parking lot, plus Trail’s End Committee members are working to secure status as a National Historic Landmark for the project. If obtained, it would be the first National Historic Landmark in Pettis County.
On the other side of town, a downtown gateway was constructed on Ohio Avenue, with very mixed reactions. Some opposed the city “wasting” money on the project, even though 80 percent of the Streetscape Phase IIIa project’s $759,805.58 cost was covered by state grants, while others thought it was a nice entryway to the downtown area.
Renovations to Ohio for the final Streetscape phase started in August and were completed in October, including the lighted arch. The arch was first lit blue to honor the 2015 World Series Kansas City Royals, which some enjoyed, but others have complained that the structure doesn’t match the look of downtown Sedalia.