If Wyandotte County was a relay team the past 16 years, outgoing Mayor Joe Reardon grabbed the baton from his predecessor and pushed his community faster and farther down the same winning path.
By KEVIN COLLISON
The Kansas City Star
Reardon, whos now handing off to a like-minded successor, Mark Holland, inherited a game plan of good government and economic development anchored by the Kansas Speedway in western Wyandotte County, and he kept the momentum humming.
Over the course of the eight years I was in office, whats significant for me is in that stretch, weve pretty much had more economic development in Kansas City, Kan., than any eight years in the history of the county, he said.
Even more significant, it was done when the economy was down.
You dont have to look far to see what a difference it makes when it comes to continuity at City Hall. Kansas City, Mo., was on a similar tear under Mayor Kay Barnes when Mayor Mark Funkhouser reversed course and the wheels came off.
Reardon benefited from the political reforms embodied in the unified government pushed by Mayor Carol Marinovich and the major investments at the Speedway area, and was ready when new opportunities knocked.
The biggest was in 2009, when Sporting Kansas City, then the Wizards, along with their owners at Cerner, came to the door. After a deal fell through to redevelop the former Bannister Mall in south Kansas City using a soccer stadium as the centerpiece, they were in a hurry.
And while the Missouri side thought it was another border raid, Reardon pointed out the Wizards already had been playing for three years at Community America ballpark.
It was a retention package for us to keep them in Kansas City, Kan., he said.
Two things were critical.
The stadium had to be accompanied by a commitment by Cerner to bring new jobs to the area, and Kansas City, Kan., was not going to be used as a pawn in the metropolitan economic development shuffle game.
We wanted to avoid the regional battle around the development, and I think the Wizards were very much aware of the area because theyd played at Community America Park for three seasons.
They needed the opportunity to move quickly on the stadium.
With the Village West retail development generating a torrent of sales tax revenues, enough to repay its original STAR bond years ahead of schedule, Kansas City, Kan., was ready to quickly put together an incentive deal.
Four years later, the Sporting Kansas City stadium is a big hit, the Cerner office development and its 4,000 new jobs are well underway, and now the Speedway area is beginning to attract new housing too.
Reardon believes the Village West/Speedway area has more opportunities ahead because of its strategic location at Interstates 70 and 435.
Location is the key, he said. It has some of the best land anywhere in the region available.
Google Fiber was the other milestone cited by Reardon. Not only its importance in coming first to Kansas City, Kan., but how it demonstrated his community could make a convincing case on the national stage.
The lesson for KCK was we were at a point in our economic development with a proven track record that we could actually engage opportunities from anywhere, he said.
Other highlights included the big investment being made along Rainbow Boulevard by the University of Kansas medical complex. A new hotel has opened along with some retail, and additional development is underway.
Reardon did have his share of economic worries.
When General Motors filed for bankruptcy in 2009, the future of its Fairfax plant where almost 4,000 people work was in doubt. Michigan officials were lobbying hard to keep their plants, and their influence in Washington was much greater.
If it became a political issue, I was worried, Reardon said. The good thing for us was GM looked at its best plants and instead of being closed, they added a third shift and are now making a major investment.
As in a $600 million investment recently announced to build a new paint shop and upgrade its stamping press.
The biggest frustration for Reardon, and a source of lingering bitterness, was the decision by the federal General Services Administration to move the regional Environmental Protection Agency office from downtown to Lenexa.
The mayor noted that the EPAs building at 901 N. Fifth St. had been custom-built in 1999 with the citys help. When its lease ran out, though, the GSA, the EPA landlord, wound up moving it to an outer suburban location in Johnson County.
I feel at the end of the day the GSA was a bad actor which participated in the regional moving-around of office locations, he said. They looked for a tax deal to go somewhere else.
Reardon knows theres much to be done in the urban core, but noted a new SunFresh supermarket on 18th Street at I-70 was built on his watch, and the city is preparing to seek proposals for another supermarket near downtown.
I think were on the cusp of doing some great things in redevelopment downtown, and the area around Strawberry Hill is bubbling up with young people and urban pioneers similar to the Crossroads and West Side, he said.
As for continuity in leadership, Reardon believes thats been the bedrock of his communitys success in the 21st century.
Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., suffered for decades when there wasnt continuity, he said. Consistency matters, and investment wants a place with consensus and not wild political swings.
Im proud to say Carol and I have moved that forward in a significant way, and Mark understands that.