Yael T. Abouhalkah

Popular gathering places will overcome problems

Updated: 2013-04-17T23:46:03Z

By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH

The Kansas City Star

In less than 24 hours earlier this month violent incidents brought negative attention to three Kansas City institutions.

Despite the many naysayers out there, here’s what the problems didn’t do: Badly damage the futures of the Country Club Plaza, the Kansas City Zoo and the Power & Light District.

The incidents:

• Young, mostly black kids congregated late at night and early in the morning of April 6 and 7 on and near the Plaza. Some fights occurred and a dozen or so juveniles were taken into custody.

• A man fired shots at a vehicle and injured two bystanders near the Power & Light District early on April 7.

• A woman was arrested April 7 after a fight erupted and police were assaulted in the zoo’s parking lot. The day also reportedly included racial tensions between some customers in the huge warm-weather crowd at the zoo.

In some corners of Kansas City, but certainly not all, the troubles once again stoked a drumbeat of fear.

The violence and resulting bad publicity that too often afflict Kansas City supposedly are going to scare people — especially white suburbanites — from coming to the Plaza, to the zoo in Swope Park and to a downtown still trying to make a good name for itself.

Let’s be clear: No, that won’t happen.

While each of the troubles related here should be taken seriously, this is the perfect time to also be pragmatic about Kansas City institutions that people on both sides of the state line want to enjoy.

The Plaza continues to be a popular, economically healthy entertainment spot; Kansas license plates are plentiful there.

Attendance at the vastly improved zoo hit a record of more than 800,000 last year.

And the Power & Light District is celebrating its fifth full year with the usual concerns about slow weekdays replaced by packed bars on many weekends.

Officials representing the Plaza, zoo and Power & Light District are regularly looking for ways to keep their patrons safe.

Zoo Director Randy Wisthoff conceded Wednesday that the crowd of more than 27,000 on April 7 exceeded the facility’s capacity, caused long lines and upset customers. The zoo was offering a “free day” to residents of Jackson and Clay counties who in 2011 approved a special sales tax for the zoo.

The free day attracted many low-income residents, Wisthoff noted, especially those who often can’t pay for a family visit there. Keeping the special day going — in a more orderly way — is a challenge the zoo now must meet.

Also, the city and others have taken positive steps to deal with concerns of young people with “nothing to do.”

Some community centers in the summer of 2012 were kept open on weekends and offered special activities for youth. The city also put in place a curfew for the Plaza, Power & Light District and several other hotspots. By and large, the plans worked. They will rev up again late next month, in time for warmer weather and school closings.

It’s also true, of course, that the city can’t babysit kids looking for something to do. The city can’t solve societal ills involving many low-income, single-parent families.

Fortunately, most Kansas Citians are savvy enough to know that isolated problems shouldn’t keep them away from some of the area’s best attractions.

In the next week, month or year, more problems will erupt at these or other popular gathering spots. Practical solutions will be devised to deal with them. Life will go on.

And the Plaza, zoo and Power & Light District will survive.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. He blogs at voices.kansascity.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/YaelTAbouhalkah. He appears on “Ruckus” at 7 tonight on KCPT, Channel 19.

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