It was an ambitious plan.
By ROXIE HAMMILL
Special to The Star
The 63rd Street Corridor a vital artery connecting some of Kansas Citys wealthiest neighborhoods with its urban core would sprout small neighborhood shopping areas. There would be nicer sidewalks and curbs, more inviting storefronts.
Walkable. Sustaintable. A mixed-use series of villages at every major intersection would provide a healthy diversity for the neighborhoods. And it would all be accessible by car, bus, bike or on foot.
That was the Land Use and Development Plan that the city adopted in November 2002.
Now, after 10 tumultuous years, the corridor looks much the same. There are no recognizable new villages and little cosmetic work on buildings and streets.
But that doesnt mean nothing has happened. Several bright spots have emerged that show development in the corridor is moving ever so slowly in the right direction.
Diversity and history
Sixty-third Street courses through just about every kind of neighborhood Kansas City has to offer. Follow it to its farthest western reaches, and it takes you through well-to-do Mission Hills on the Kansas side. Then it becomes Shawnee Mission Parkway, continuing through the outer Johnson County suburbs.
Go east and hipsterish Brookside homes and businesses give way to pawn shops and open tracts of yet-to-be-developed land. Keep going over Bruce R. Watkins Drive and youll pass homes bordering Swope Park. Another mile or two, past a business park and a former drive-in theater and youre in the heart of Raytowns business district, which has a small-town vibe.
A fair amount of history has been written along the corridor, too.
Part of the Battle of Westport was fought along it, and the area around 63rd and Wornall Road was part of land used for the Santa Fe Trail trade of Dr. David Waldo. And Daniel Morgan Boone, grandson of frontiersman Daniel Boone, owned land along it, too. His grave is in the Boone-Hays Cemetery adjacent to the street at Brooklyn Avenue.
It was against that backdrop that city planners wrote the land use plan.
The idea, according to the plan, was to play up some of that history, beautify the streetside and make it all compatible with Focus Kansas City, a 1997 document that supports compact, mixed-use patterns of development over the next quarter-century.
The plan depended, to a certain extent, on three institutions the Church of the Nazarene World Headquarters, the Cleveland Chiropractic College and Research Medical Center to provide an influx of people to the area.
But of those institutions, only Research Medical remains. The Nazarene headquarters moved to Lenexa in 2008, and Cleveland Chiropractic to Overland Park in 2007.
Those werent the only setbacks, though. The failure of the Citadel Plaza project from 60th to 63rd Streets between Brooklyn and Prospect avenues, cost the city $15 million to settle a lawsuit and has left the area in the same weed-choked condition it has been in since the project was proposed more than 15 years ago.
People are still angry about the Citadel Plaza project.
It has just been horrible, what they did to the community, said Marti Lee of the Southtown Council. It has also been hurtful to the nearby Citadel neighborhood that is a good housing area, she said.
Flood-plain issues also got in the way of some development plans, Lee said. The former Metro Plaza Shopping Center near The Paseo might have been redeveloped into a police and fire station but for city concerns about drainage. Ultimately, it remained a shopping center, but under new ownership.
A promising future
For all the problems and setbacks, there have been new signs of life along the corridor. For one thing, the corridor has made it into the citys Capital Improvement Plan, clearing the way for improvements like the street resurfacing last summer from Bruce R. Watkins Drive to Swope Park.
Although street improvements wont solve all the corridors problems, they will help encourage businesses and institutions to return, Lee said.
The settlement of the Citadel lawsuit also will help the city move forward on that troubled parcel, said city planner Gerald Williams. Now that the courts are finished, the city can begin to acquire the land and clean up asbestos contamination.
The city can now be more proactive, he said. They are now in the drivers seat out of necessity.
While those changes are mostly on paper, there has been one clearly visible sign of success the newly redone Pener Plaza. Ten years ago, planners looking at the Metro Plaza Shopping Center expressed doubt that two retail areas as close as Metro Plaza and The Landing at Troost Avenue could both survive. They recommended that The Landing be redeveloped and that Metro Plaza be put to some other use.
Today, though, it is The Landing that continues to struggle while Pener Plaza, which just reopened last August on the old Metro Plaza site, is bustling.
Pener Plaza is 84 percent leased and counting, said owner Barry Pener. The 100,000-square-foot center includes a Harold Pener clothing store, a Dollar Tree and a Thriftway, as well as several smaller stores.
All those stores were busy on a recent Saturday, but perhaps none busier than Joes Barbershop on the eastern end. Owner Joel Slatton of Kansas City started the shop in 2006, when Metro Plaza looked as if it might be torn down. It was a good way to start in an affordable space.
I wanted to get my feet wet, he said.
At the time, there werent many tenants. But now the nine-chair establishment does a brisk business. The shopping center has made a huge turnaround, he said.
The future looks bright as well, Slatton says as he waves in the direction of a big construction project across the street. It will be the new home of the Ewing Marion Kauffman School, formerly the Nazarene world headquarters. The public charter school will add grades gradually, but by the time its fully occupied in 2018, it will serve 1,000 fifth- through 12th-graders and fill a property that has been vacant about four years.
Other encouraging things have happened, Lee says. The former Cleveland Chiropractic College medical buildings are slated to be rehabbed into office space. The Brookside Day School further east at Woodland Avenue is expanding, and recently a liquor store at 63rd and Cherry Street was remade into Brookside Wine and Spirits, improving its overall look and reputation, she said.
Its been a long time since those heady days when architects and neighborhood leaders talked about walkable villages. The intervening years have been instructive, Lee said.
Weve learned a little more whats possible and doable, rather than being visionary.
The outlook along the corridor isnt uniformly hopeful, however.
The 275,000-square-foot Brywood Centre at Raytowns western doorstep has not been performing as well as expected when Kansas City set up a special taxing district in 2008. The $30 million rehab was in an area considered blighted. The plan was for the improved activity at the center to pay off $15 million in costs over 23 years. However, the center is not on schedule, say officials at Kansas Citys Economic Development Corporation. Only $54,200 in tax increment revenue has been generated since 2008.
But over at Pener Plaza, Slatton sees a bright future ahead with all the new classrooms and businesses coming in.
The more the merrier, he said. I think things are going to turn around and come back. Thats what Im hoping for.