The Kansas City public “is being very wise” to continue backing public investment in downtown revitalization, a crowd of about 1,000 heard Friday at the annual luncheon of the Downtown Council.
Jon Copaken, past chairman of the organization devoted to downtown improvements, said critics of public incentives shouldn’t try to slow down redevelopment momentum but rather “keep investing before prematurely packing up and leaving.”
Downtown, which accounts for 25 percent of the city’s tax base, is getting more than $1 billion in new investment, partly sparked by public incentives, including construction of the new streetcar line from the River Market to Union Station.
“It’s the starter line, not the finish line,” Mayor Sly James said of the streetcar. He noted that 2,082 new residential units have opened downtown or are under construction this year, 2,249 more units are planned, and access to free transportation on the streetcar plus the addition of “smart city” technology are infusing downtown with a new spirit.
But the recovery of downtown also is about new commercial life, several speakers said, and the event included a showcase of dozens of companies and nonprofits that operate downtown.
Jason Tolliver, a downtown expert with Cushman & Wakefield, put the Kansas City revival in perspective with other downtown growth around the country. He said it falls in line with changes charted since 2007, when urban-core growth began exceeding suburban growth. The movement back to city centers crosses all industries and professions, he said.
Topping the reasons companies cite for relocating to downtowns is that it helps attract and retain young, talented workers who seek walkable “live-work-play” environments with access to public transportation.
“Commercial tenants also want a new, exciting environment” with “facilitated permitting” from city halls and a clean, safe neighborhood, Tolliver said.
In regard to his last point, the luncheon also gave kudos to the 48-person staff of safety, maintenance and landscape “ambassadors” funded by downtown property owners.
As previously published, the council gave its 2015 downtown-related awards to Henry Bloch, co-founder of H&R Block; Leonard Graham with Taliaferro & Browne; Dean Johnson and Tysie McDowell-Ray with Crossroads Academy; Harry Murphy with Harry’s Country Club; and Jay Tomlinson with Helix Architecture + Design.