Outside the Drunken Fish restaurant this week, bricklayers reset sunken pavers. The wavy sidewalks of the almost five-year-old Power Light District have needed attention for some time, but with the All-Star Game approaching, suddenly that repair is a priority.
Elsewhere around town, businesses are studying the rules for what kinds of signs they can put up to celebrate Major League Baseball’s big event — without infringing on MLB’s many trademarks.
Groups are talking about transportation, translators for foreign visitors…
Myriad concerns confront Kansas City as it prepares to host the so-called Midsummer Classic, July 6-10.
Disaster plans are being drawn, as well as plans for scenarios that border more on the annoying and inconvenient. During All-Star week in Phoenix last year, event organizers had to contend with both a power brownout and a water main break.
That’s something that’s beyond the hypothetical in Kansas City, which set a record last year for water main breaks.
Whether preparing for the worst, or taking steps to make the city sparkle in the national spotlight during that extended July weekend, a lot of folks in official and non-official capacities have been busy for a year or more getting ready for the biggest event to come Kansas City’s way in a long time.
“We have an amazing opportunity to highlight our beautiful city to the world during the All-Star Game, but we have to get it right,” Mayor Sly James said.
From drawing up emergency plans to compiling lists of blighted buildings to be demolished along the main routes between The K, the Country Club Plaza and Downtown, the to-do list is long and varied.
The big question now: “Is that going to be done before the All-Star Game?”
Preparations are on schedule, according to the mayor’s office. And so far, Major League Baseball and the Royals are content, said Royals’ vice president of business operations Kevin Uhlich, who said the team has its own long list of preparations, such as arranging transportation for the 5,000 VIPs who will be in town during All-Star week.
“We have to nail it,” Uhlich said.Chance to shine
Whether you’re an avid baseball fan or not, rest assured that this is a very big deal for Kansas City.
Even if the game is mostly inconsequential — all it really determines is home field advantage in the World Series — money and prestige are on the line for the host community.
Visitors are expected to pump $60 million into the local economy, according to the convention and visitors association.
As many as 150,000 people are expected to attend one or more All-Star Game events. In addition to the Tuesday night game, those include the Home Run Derby and the Futures Game at the stadium in the days before.
Downtown will be the site of the five-day Fan Fest, part exhibition and trade show with hands-on activities like batting machines and opportunities to score autographs and baseball memorabilia. It will take up all of Bartle Hall.
“The majority of people don’t realize that the Fan Fest is a bigger deal than the game itself,” said Rick Hughes, director of the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association.
The Country Club Plaza will be the venue of one of the larger events, the All-Star Red Carpet Show, a chance for fans without tickets to the game to see baseball royalty parading up close.
But folks in Hughes’ line of work are almost more excited about the exposure all that will bring Kansas City. About 30 million viewers in 217 countries will watch the contest.
It’s the sort of attention that’s taken for granted in center-of-the-universe cities like New York or LA.
But for KC, the 2012 All-Star Game is something of a one-time, don’t-mess-it-up moment in the sun. Kansas City has almost zero chances of staging a Super Bowl or Final Four, unless Arrowhead grows a dome.
“I’m so excited about the All-Star Game, I could spit nails,” said Jason Hodges, point man in the mayor’s office for all things all-star all the time. “We’re going to make this into a big damn deal, there’s no other way about it.”
The main events are run by MLB, and it’s Kansas City’s job to help make them work. And then there are other attractions the city wants to add on its own.
Something on the order of a summer-long, citywide celebration that will both impress visitors and boost the spirits of locals alike with events like, say, a Taste of Kansas City celebration at Barney Allis Plaza and celebrations out in the neighborhoods.A giant puzzle
Kansas City has twice before been an All-Star host.
That first time, in 1960, the chamber of commerce posted banners downtown that read “Welcome to the All-Star City,” as if it was the only one. In fact, there were two games that summer. The second half of the double header was in New York.
News clippings from then describe few other details about civic preparations. The bigger concern was readying Municipal Stadium for its all-star turn by adding space in a press box that seated just 20 for an expected press corps of 200.
The ’73 game was a reward for Jackson County taxpayers building Royals Stadium, which opened that year. There was no Fan Fest and no Home Run Derby. But there was a red-carpet event on the Plaza. Dressed head to toe in white, Royals owner Ewing Kauffman bought dinner for 1,000 guests.
The event has grown a lot since them.
Planning for it began even before Commissioner Bud Selig announced two years ago that Kansas City would play host again in 2012, thanks to the stadium’s renovation. But things picked up last summer when James, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders and a contingent of folks from in and outside of City Hall flew to Phoenix to see how that city prepared.
Gene Shepherd, Kansas City’s emergency preparedness director, said he spent two days in the Phoenix emergency operations center.
There he learned that among the alphabet soup of agencies that play a role on All-Star weekends is the DOE, as in Department of Energy. After 9-11, checking for nuclear devices became routine at mega-events like this one.
DOE likely won’t be in town until All-Star week, but representatives from a dozen federal, state and local public safety agencies and area utilities will stage an emergency drill on April 25 at the stadium.
“We’re planning for the worst-case scenarios,” Shepherd said.
In Phoenix, Kansas City assistant city manager Kimiko Gilmore was impressed by that city’s planning. But she also gained an appreciation for how much tougher a job it would be for Kansas City to get ready. Every big venue was in or near downtown Phoenix, including the Diamondbacks’ stadium. Even the airport is close in.
Kansas City, as we all know, is spread way out.
“Folks were kind of convinced that we had a more difficult logistical challenge,” Gilmore said.
So transportation is key. The Royals are arranging for a fleet of motor coaches to ferry 5,000 VIPs around town.
For their part, city officials are planning the routes those buses and ones the ATA will use to deliver fans to and from the ballpark.
“It’s a giant jigsaw puzzle is what it is,” Kansas City Police Maj. Rich Lockhart said.
Transportation is his piece, and he hopes to have the plan finished soon. The primary route would likely be along Interstate 70. The secondary, in case of a wreck slowing traffic on the interstate, might be Truman Road or Blue Parkway to Eastwood Trafficway — or both.
“I always like to over-plan to be on the safe side,” Lockhart said.
And since all three of those routes traverse areas of the city that are not exactly elegant, the city department of neighborhood and community services is compiling a list of delinquent properties along them. The city could then arrange to mow vacant lots or demolish dilapidated buildings that can be seen from the roadside, department director David Park said.
In all, the city has budgeted $900,000 to cover its expenses, from the demolitions to police overtime.
MLB hasn’t announced the details of its plans yet, which has the city, as well as business and community groups waiting to nail down theirs. For instance, will baseball hold an outdoor charity concert at Crown Center like the one in St. Louis in 2009? Probably, but nothing’s sure at this point.
“This event is like water,” Hodges said. “It touches everything.”Movies and more
Almost every day, one group or another is meeting to discuss arrangements associated with some aspect of the All-Star Game.
Hodges encourages wide participation, but it’s also his job to say “no,” sometimes.
For instance, there’s the suggestion that watch parties be held on game night all over the city, since only 41,000 people will actually get to see the game in person in a metro area of 2 million. Others have proposed ripping up streets in the 18th and Vine district and turning the area into a permanent pedestrian plaza.
In both case, Hodges’ advice was to hold back a little and think it over.
Watch parties are a great idea, but what security arrangements and liability would multiple watch parties incur?
As for tearing up streets: “Uh, no!” he said.
Among the broader-based committees is the one chaired by consultant Keli O’Neill Wenzel. Her family’s firm, O’Neil Marketing Event Management, has a $77,700 contract with the city to coordinate “citywide involvement.”
Baseball will have its official events and locals will stage theirs.
For instance, the chamber of commerce plans a business forum featuring members of the Royals’ 1985 World Series team at Kauffman Center on July 8. Crown Center plans on showing baseball flicks all summer at its free Friday night movies.
In a conference room at Union Station this month, a couple of dozen representatives of various interest groups took turns reporting in.
“There’s a lot of talk about doing something on the West Side,” said Carlos Gomez from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, but he wasn’t sure what that might entail.
Translators for Spanish-speaking tourists? Gomez thought that might be a good idea, too.
“Don’t forget the Japanese,” Jason Pryor of the restaurant association said, but his group is mostly concerned about the dos and don’t of signage in terms of avoiding hassles over baseball’s many trademarks.
“We’ll want to know whether we can say ‘Welcome, All-Star Fans,’ or just ‘Welcome, baseball fans.’ ”
The Downtown Council is thinking about installing information kiosks for tourists and handing out free bottled water that weekend.
“Do we need to worry about the water sponsors, or should we tear the labels off?” marketing director Mike Hurd asked.
No doubt about it, the city is going to look and feel different this All-Star summer, Hodges said.
Now all he has to ensure is that steps are taken to keep baseball stars from being hounded by professional autograph seekers at the airport.
That there are plenty of cabs and drivers who won’t gouge their passengers.
That both the outside world and Kansas City-area residents alike come out of all this feeling as positive as folks in another midsize Midwestern city, Indianapolis, must have felt after getting universal praise for hosting this year’s Super Bowl.
The morning after that game, Hodges flipped on NBC’s Today Show where he heard weatherman Al Roker shower mega-props upon Indy.
“And I thought to myself, please, sing those praises about us the day after the All-Star Game.”