Steve Rose

Roasts and toasts suitable for the new year

Updated: 2014-01-12T00:15:49Z

By Steve Rose

The Kansas City Star

For the eight years I was a panelist on KCPT’s “Ruckus” program, we would end the show with our “roasts and toasts.” I thought it would be fun to start the New Year with some of the roasts and toasts I’ve been saving up over time.

A ROAST to KCI Aviation Director Mark VanLoh, who insists KCI is “a mess” and is adamant the airport needs a $1 billion-plus transformation into a single terminal. VanLoh and his fellow supporters ignore the fact that the public likes the airport the way it is, with necessary improvements. Apparently, he believes that common citizens do not know what’s good for them. Perhaps they do.

A TOAST to Randy Wisthoff, the CEO of the Kansas City Zoo. What a visionary. He has doubled the attendance from 400,000 to 825,000 since his arrival from Omaha. Wisthoff has added two amazingly popular exhibits near the front entrance. The polar bears and now the penguins are crowd favorites. Thanks to a zoo tax passed in 2011, Wisthoff has much more in store for a zoo that is on its way to becoming world-class.

A ROAST to Kansas City Mayor Sly James and all the leaders who are behind the “trolley folly,” known as streetcars running two miles at a cost of more than $100 million. It is being touted not as a transportation amenity but rather an economic development tool. The premise is businesses will spring up and new, updated housing will appear near the various stops along the streetcar route. The same has been tried in many cities, with mixed results. Well, the train has left the station, and expansions are already being considered. Count me among the skeptics.

A TOAST to former Kansas City mayor Kay Barnes, on whose watch was created the Power and Light District downtown, as well as the renowned Sprint Center. It is true the city is spending millions of dollars annually to subsidize the district, but it truly is triggering an economic development boon. It replaced rundown blight with upscale and mid-scale restaurants. The area comes alive every weekend but mostly when the hugely successful Sprint Center is hosting an event. We needn’t acquire a sports team for the Sprint Center, thank you very much. It is doing great the way it is.

A TOAST to Mayor Sly James, who is pushing hard for a 1,000-room hotel near Bartle Hall. To compete with the likes of Indianapolis, Kansas City desperately needs a single hotel for major conventions. Our convention business is plummeting, as competition is stealing what we used to host. The $200 million project would require bonds, backed by the city, and no-doubt, the subsidy by taxpayers would go on perhaps forever. But this would be money well spent. Conventions create jobs and increase business for retailers, and that’s what Kansas City needs more of.

A TOAST to former Overland Park mayor Ed Eilert (now Johnson County Commission chairman) and former City Manager Don Pipes whose dreams became a reality when the Overland Park Convention Center was opened in 2002. Critics thought a quarter-million-square-feet center on 26 acres in the suburbs would be a drag on taxpayers and never turn a profit. Well, the center has been profitable for more than a decade. It hosts 350 events and attracts 300,000 attendees annually. The one-time skeptics are silent now.

A ROAST to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who led the charge for the most radical and irresponsible tax cuts in the history of Kansas and, perhaps, the entire country. One of the unfortunate victims of these cuts is education, both K-12 and higher education. The damage will be gradual, but it will be felt to be sure. Brownback says he is investing in more jobs. But he is dis-investing in education. What could be more vital to the Kansas economy and attracting businesses than a high quality educational system?

A TOAST to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon who had the courage to veto me-too tax slashing in Missouri, in a hair-brained effort to emulate Kansas tax policy. Like lemmings, the Missouri legislature is determined to jump off the same cliff as Kansas. Never mind that Missouri, too, would find itself short of funds for education and decimate its revenue flow.

A ROAST — I hate to leave this on a down note — to Krazy Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who runs an evil empire from Topeka. He spends his waking time, not on his main job, but as an attorney specializing in writing and defending anti-immigrant legislation all over the country. He needs to get a life, but not as secretary of state.

To reach Steve Rose, a longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to srose@kc.rr.com.

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