Plan would trigger a surge of new investmentBy E. THOMAS McCLANAHAN
The Kansas City Star
For decades, Kansas City has scattered its most important assets. Facilities such as sports stadiums, museums or the zoo were dispersed willy-nilly, seemingly without regard to any spinoff investment they might generate.
Putting the Sprint Center downtown across the street from a new entertainment district was a shift in that tendency, one suggesting that perhaps at long last, Kansas City had learned the value of synergy and interconnection in urban settings.
If the Sprint Center was an important step in the right direction, the plan for a Downtown Campus for the Arts would be a quantum leap.
The late urbanist Jane Jacobs wrote that major assets such as these function like chess pieces in the cityscape. When isolated, they are weak. But if theyre intelligently located, public assets can spark waves of follow-on private investment cafes, restaurants, shops and housing boosting jobs and tax revenue for the city.
At this point, UMKCs plan to move its arts programs downtown is merely that a plan seeking money. Phase one alone would cost more than $88 million, not counting land acquisition.
Under a bill enacted by the Missouri legislature, state money could be available for half the capital construction projects, if matched by private donations. But even if the financing for this endeavor is doubtful, the city-building potential is enormous.
UMKC officials have identified three possible sites for the arts campus two near the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in the Crossroads District and Barney Allis Plaza.
Barney Allis Plaza can be dismissed out of hand. It offers little or no opportunity for arts-campus expansion, and the uses of the surrounding built environment mainly hotels and convention facilities are already locked in. Once again, Kansas City would be squandering its chance to spark significant follow-on private investment.
The two Crossroads sites south and west, and south and east of the Kauffman center are dramatically different in that regard.
The preliminary sketches made public by UMKC show the arts campus fitting into the neighborhood in a way thats almost organic, with various facilities co-existing with the low-rise, light-industrial buildings that give the area its character. Many of these buildings are perfect for adaptive reuse.
Thanks to the availability of these older structures, the UMKC arts campus would quickly breed an urban ecosystem of cafes, restaurants, bookstores and shops as well as uses that dovetail with the performing arts, such as private studios and recital rooms.
Demand would increase for additional housing and perhaps small hotels for visiting performers. The performance venues would expand the time-spread of uses, meaning that unlike much of downtown, the streets would remain active after 6 p.m.
Throughout much of its history, Kansas City has wasted its chances for these kinds of city-building capital flows. Our sports stadiums were built far from the central core, so the hotels that sprang up there are of little use for downtown conventions. Our major museum is far to the south, in an area thats largely residential. The zoo is off to the south, farther still.
The word transformative has been cheapened by overuse, but this is a case where it fits. An arts campus in the Crossroads District would dramatically accelerate investment in the central core and, over time, change the face of the city. It may be mere talk now, but this plan deserves wholehearted backing.