Kansas City government officials had a lot of plans and ideas in 2016. We’ll be watching in 2017 to see how many of those actually come to fruition or show progress.
“2017 is going to be a big year,” predicted City Manager Troy Schulte. “2017 is going to be very busy for the city.”
Schulte says development will continue downtown and along the riverfront, as well as in the East Side, and construction continues on a huge new Cerner campus in south Kansas City. The city is hoping to wrangle $48 million in state funding for the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s arts campus near the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, and it will continue to try to address hundreds of vacant and blighted houses that are magnets for crime.
Here are 10 big things to watch in the coming year:
The City Council wants to seek voter support for an $800 million bond authorization to address the city’s deteriorating streets, bridges, sidewalks, buildings and other infrastructure. It would be the largest general obligation bond approval in the city’s history and would set the stage for a major rebuilding program over the next two decades. The City Council must agree on ballot language by Jan. 19 for an April 4 election. It requires a 57 percent majority vote, and it could be a tough sell because it would require a modest property tax increase spanning 20 years.
East Side sales tax
A citizens group gathered petition signatures to seek voter approval in April for a citywide 1/8 -cent sales tax to help promote East Side economic development. It would be the first citywide sales tax targeting a particular part of town, specifically from Ninth Street to Gregory Boulevard and from the Paseo to Indiana Avenue. The City Council is trying to negotiate tweaks to the ballot language with the group, but that measure may be decided at the same election as the infrastructure bond.
Once the April infrastructure election is finished, the business community may launch a citywide conversation about how to modernize Kansas City International Airport. The metro area remains sharply divided on this question, with many Kansas City voters wanting to keep the existing terminal configuration, while the airlines and many business leaders want a new single-terminal airport. 2017 is the year when Schulte, Mayor Sly James and others hope the community will find some sort of consensus on airport improvements.
A community-driven plan to extend the downtown streetcar south on Main Street to UMKC gets revved up, seeking new taxes to pay for the streetcar expansion. The first of what could be three elections will be held for voters living within the proposed streetcar district boundaries south of the Missouri River. The mail-in election process will occur from early May to July 11. If voters approve the new streetcar district, an election would occur in September at polling places to elect board members of the new taxing district. Finally, there would be another mail-in election between November and Jan. 16, 2018, to actually approve the taxes for the new streetcar district.
We’ll also learn if it’s feasible to extend the existing downtown streetcar about three-quarters of a mile north, into Berkley Riverfront Park. A consultant is studying the cost and financing options.
There’s also the likelihood that a streetcar plan proposed by Clay Chastain would ask voters to approve a 3/8 -cent citywide sales tax for 25 years to help fund a $1 billion, 26-mile streetcar system, building on the city’s 2.2-mile streetcar starter route. Chastain has enough petition signatures to place the measure on a ballot, but it’s now up to the City Council to decide whether to proceed.
The city finally hopes to relinquish control over Kemper Arena and turn it over to the Foutch Brothers for redevelopment as a youth and adult amateur sports complex. The city has paid off all the remaining bonds on Kemper and can save about $1 million per year by no longer having to maintain the shuttered city arena.
Downtown convention hotel
The hotel is behind schedule, but developers say they have a construction loan agreement and are optimistic they can complete financing for the project in the spring. They hope to start construction in the first half of 2017, with a projected opening in September 2019.
Linwood Shopping Center
This shopping center renovation at Linwood Boulevard and Prospect Avenue is also way behind schedule, but construction should get going in earnest in 2017.
18th and Vine
The city expects to spend $7 million over the next few years on historic Jazz District upgrades. Planned spending includes about $1.3 million to improve the 18th Street streetscape; $1.5 million for the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center at 1824 Paseo Blvd.; $1.2 million to stabilize the historic Boone Theater at 1701 E. 18th St.; and $1 million for a 300-space parking lot at 18th and Lydia. The city is also seeking private partners to help market and manage the district.
Urban youth baseball
Kansas City’s MLB Urban Youth Baseball Academy is under construction in Parade Park, next to the 18th and Vine Jazz District. The $14 million project is a partnership between the city, the Royals and Major League Baseball. The first phase includes three baseball fields, one softball field, a walking trail, relocated basketball and tennis courts, and a relocated playground. It should open in late June or early July. A second phase calls for an indoor training facility with batting cages and pitching mounds. The entire facility is designed to serve about 800 to 1,000 youths per year, ages 6-18, with baseball and softball instruction, plus educational and vocational programs.
A citizens petition initiative seeks a public vote to decriminalize possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana in Kansas City. St. Louis and Columbia have already taken this step, but those cities control their police departments, and Kansas City government does not directly control the city’s Police Department or its enforcement practices. So Kansas City’s approach to this marijuana initiative may have to be different. The council will have to decide whether the proposal is legal, whether it should be reworded for a city ballot, and the timing of any election.