A proposal for $27.6 million in public funds was unveiled Thursday with the hope of completing the long-sought revitalization of Kansas City’s historic 18th and Vine Jazz District.
The request represents a nearly fourfold increase from a $7 million proposal last December for improvements to the district.
City Manager Troy Schulte and City Councilman Jermaine Reed, who represents the jazz district, urged City Council support Thursday for the public funds, which they said could help leverage $12 million in private dollars.
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Schulte said that over the past 25 years, the city has helped the district in a piecemeal way. This time, he urged the city to “do it right and declare victory once and for all at 18th and Vine.”
Reed endorsed the plan before a crowd gathered at the intersection of 18th and Vine. He said he will seek the public’s support and urge his council colleagues to approve the bond financing in the next 30 days.
The bonds could be paid back with capital improvement sales tax funds, and the city would also seek all available federal and state incentives.
The actual work to complete the district would be done over the next three years.
Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Museum, and Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, the new executive director of the American Jazz Museum, cheered the announcement.
“We need to keep, maintain, preserve and elevate 18th and Vine,” Kositany-Buckner said, reminding a crowd that Kansas City is one of the “four pillars of jazz,” along with New York, Chicago and New Orleans, and the city needs to guard that precious heritage.
Among the proposed improvements: $4.2 million for the Buck O’Neil Education Center, $1.7 million for the American Jazz Museum, $1.8 million for a multipurpose space for the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey headquarters, $5.6 million for 18th Street retail and apartment space, $1.2 million to rehabilitate the historic Boone Theater at 1701 E. 18th St., $4.9 million to stabilize and improve historic buildings, $1 million for a gateway plaza and fountain at 18th Street and the Paseo, and $3 million for 18th Street streetscape improvements to help connect the jazz district to the Crossroads area to the west.
Schulte and Reed said the latter streetscape upgrades would help eliminate the perception that 18th and Vine is isolated and separate from the rest of downtown.
Schulte predicted that public money would leverage private and philanthropic investment from supporters of the various facilities, such as Friends of Alvin Ailey and advocates of the Buck O’Neil center, plus future investments in additional commercial developments.
Thursday’s announcement followed by one day a groundbreaking for the first phase of the Urban Youth Baseball Academy, which Kansas City officials and Royals executives have high hopes for. It will be in Parade Park, just north of 18th and Vine, and is expected to be a huge draw for young people learning all aspects of baseball as a sport and business.
The push to fulfill 18th and Vine’s promise also comes amid heightened community pressure to make East Side development a higher priority for the city. It follows major East Side investments in recent years, including a new police station and crime lab and new housing in Beacon Hill and elsewhere east of Troost.
Kansas City municipal government has invested more than $70 million in the 18th and Vine district since 1990, but no one is yet satisfied with the district’s vitality.
To address the district’s shortcomings, Reed and other jazz district boosters had proposed a wish list last December that totaled $7 million. But then more projects were added, and in January the City Council directed the city manager to figure out how to pay for up to $18 million in improvements.
Schulte said Thursday that as he and others studied the issue in the past few months, the list of needed projects continued to grow.