It’s possible that passengers could be riding Kansas City’s new downtown streetcar in March, but the Streetcar Authority is now planning a big grand opening celebration for April.
The authority provided new details Thursday as construction on the 2.2-mile downtown system on Main Street is nearly complete and testing on the first two of four streetcar vehicles continues with good results.
Mayor Sly James has expressed the hope that the streetcar system could be up and running publicly in time for the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament at the Sprint Center in early March.
Public works director Sherri McIntyre said Thursday it may still be possible to have the system carrying passengers at that time, through a “soft opening” of the system, like restaurants often do. The system perhaps could open quietly and without fanfare, she said, with two of the four vehicles.
But Streetcar Authority members also said they are planning for a grand opening in April specifically to celebrate the streetcars — not in competition with something else like a big tournament or convention.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make an impact,” said Streetcar Authority marketing committee chairwoman Teri Rogers.
City spokesman Chris Hernandez agreed that it’s important to dedicate an event specifically to the public start of the $100 million streetcar system and to all the businesses along the streetcar route from Union Station to the River Market, especially along Main Street.
“It deserves its own time and place,” Hernandez said of the celebration.
The April time frame appears realistic, officials said, because Kansas City expects to take delivery of the third streetcar vehicle in late January and the fourth vehicle by the end of March at the latest.
McIntyre and others emphasized a public “soft opening” will occur only when all systems are fully safe and ready.
The marketing committee is trying to find the best week or weekend in April to hold activities and is consulting with downtown businesses, convention and visitor advocates, and others on that schedule.
Streetcar Authority member and former councilman Russ Johnson said other cities that have held streetcar grand openings have dealt with huge crowds, and Kansas City needs to be prepared to manage something like that.
He said it’s important to stagger the boardings onto the streetcars to avoid a situation where people at the front of the line cram onto the cars at Union Station and then ride the whole circular route multiple times without getting off. That would mean no one else being able to get on to ride.