Here we go again, diving headlong into another new year like otters into an icy pond.
Paddling through the next 12 months, as always there will be surprises.
This time last year, who could have predicted a 2014 World Series appearance for the Royals? Or gas prices below $2 a gallon?
However, we do have some clues as to what lies ahead on a number of fronts on the local scene.
Never miss a local story.
So get out your planners and mark down these local events or developments we’ll be keeping an eye on in 2015:
The last time streetcars ferried passengers through Kansas City, Ike occupied the White House, Elvis topped the charts, and a bottle of Coke still cost a nickel.
Now, nearly six decades later, we’re about to see the return of the streetcar this year with the completion of a two-mile starter line downtown.
If all goes according to plan, sleek white, black and silver colored modern streetcars will begin rolling down Main Street, from the River Market to Union Station, probably in October.
For testing and training purposes only. Regular passenger service isn’t set to begin until early 2016.
It’s a perennial question, but clearly, 2015 could be a pivotal year for the Overland Park-based telecom giant.
Will new CEO Marcelo Claure’s strategy to boost the company’s customer base with deep discounting pay off? If not, what’s his next move to keep the No. 3 domestic wireless phone provider competitive?
Those questions will have a big impact on the Kansas City economy, as Sprint Corp. is among the metro area’s top five private employers.
The company’s financial health is a matter of special concern to the 6,700 local folks who were on the company’s payroll at year’s end and the families they support.
Out of 32,000 employees nationwide, as few as 29,000 will be left when previously announced layoffs take effect, the company says. No word yet on how that will affect the local headcount.
But in response to continuing speculation about the company keeping its headquarters here, spokeswoman Melinda Tiemeyer says not to worry.
“We remain committed to our hometown,” her email said.
Along with the $100 million streetcar project, a quarter-billion dollars’ worth of downtown construction or renovation projects are set for completion in the year ahead.
Among them, the 25-story One Light building at 13th and Walnut streets, perhaps the first new residential structure built in the loop in decades. A few blocks away, the iconic Power & Light Building is being converted to residential use.
Many other projects are getting underway, while fundraising continues for the proposed UMKC arts campus near the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Follow downtown developments in our special interactive report here.
Benton and ballet
Two longtime Kansas City favorites of the arts scene will be in the spotlight in 2015.
Next fall and winter, 100 works of painter Thomas Hart Benton will be featured at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in the first major exhibition of his work in the past quarter century.
“American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood” will display paintings, murals, drawings, prints and illustrated books that the artist created for the movies.
Later in the year, the Kansas City Ballet will unveil its first completely new production of “The Nutcracker” in more than 30 years. Despite some tweaks, the show hadn’t changed all that much since 1981.
Murder trending down
Thanks in part to the KC No Violence Alliance, a new program that intervenes with violent offenders before they resort to murder, Kansas City in 2014 had fewer homicides than anytime since 1972.
Police and prosecutors hope to continue that downward trend in 2015.
Other cities have seen the same trend, many even more rapidly. The FBI recently released figures for 2013 showing Kansas City had the fourth-highest murder rate among the 50 largest U.S. cities.
Will the Royals return to the post-season for the second year in a row after a three-decade drought?
Might Sporting KC, the 2013 MLS Cup winners, regroup for another shot at the championship after an early exit from the playoffs in 2014?
With the core of both teams’ rosters relatively intact, there’s hope.
As for the Chiefs, did you know that owner Clark Hunt turns 50 on Feb. 19? He was one month shy of his fifth birthday the last time his team went to the Super Bowl.
No escaping politics
Yay! We’ll escape a lot of those robo calls and endless political ads this year, mostly because there are no state or federal elections scheduled.
But there still will be plenty of hand-shaking, baby-kissing and selfie-taking on the local level as candidates campaign ahead of municipal and school board elections.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James is seen as likely winning a second term, but term limits guarantee at least six new faces on the City Council.
Shakeups could also occur on both sides of the state line, where scores of seats are in play.
One sure thing: Wyandotte County voters will accomplish what their divided elected leaders were unable to do and fill the 1st District at-large seat on the Unified Government commission. It’s been empty since Mark Holland was elected mayor and vacated that seat nearly two years ago.
Google Fiber might have lightning-fast Internet speed, but the installation process has been somewhat pokier than promised.
Still, as the company begins wrapping up its initial installations in both Kansas Citys, Google plans to start hooking up Johnson County customers in the first half of 2015.
Fellow Earthlings, our unmanned spacecraft have visited or passed by all the other planets in the solar system except distant Pluto, which isn’t on the planetary A-list these days, having been downgraded to dwarf status in 2006.
That will be rectified in July, when the New Horizons space probe is expected to pass within 6,200 miles of the celestial body discovered by Clyde Tombaugh.
And it’s Tombaugh who makes that voyage of special interest to us.
He was a Kansas farm kid who, in his 20s, verified Pluto’s existence before earning two degrees at the University of Kansas.
He’s on New Horizons, or at least his ashes are. Tombaugh died in 1997 at the age of 90.
Kansas and Missouri both have governors. The similarities end there.
Missouri’s Jay Nixon is a Democrat now entering the last two years of his second term faced with a veto-proof Republican majority in the General Assembly.
Nixon can talk about toll roads and other issues all he wants, but from here on he is powerless to get much done in the legislature, other than to take punches, like he’s enduring with regard to his Ferguson response.
Over in Topeka, where the GOP controls both houses of the Legislature, Republican Sam Brownback would seem to have it made. Except there’s this massive budget hole that needs filling this year and next.
Deep tax cuts that he and the Legislature passed in recent years were supposed to spur enough economic growth to support government programs. But it hasn’t worked out that way yet, and now even some Republicans are having second thoughts about those tax reductions and Brownback’s response to the crisis.
The city’s largest private charity, the $2 billion-plus Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, is expected to get a new leader in the first quarter of 2015.
People matter. During the year and a half that former CEO Tom McDonnell was at the helm, the foundation began focusing more of its attention on the Kansas City area than it had under his predecessor.
Marking wars’ ends
There’s never a shortage of anniversaries worthy of commemoration, and 2015 is no exception. Expect some ceremonies marking the end of the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination 150 years ago.
And out in Independence, the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum and the Truman Institute are making plans for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs.
This winter’s been milder than last, and the National Weather Service predicts that will continue in terms of temperatures and snowfall.
So far, no drought worries, either. Thanks to some timely precipitation, there’s sufficient ground moisture in Missouri and eastern Kansas, according to the Climate Prediction Center’s seasonal drought map, although south-central and far western Kansas remain parched.
As for the rest of the year, The Old Farmer’s Almanac says temps and precip will be above normal in April and May, while summer will be hot and a little drier than usual.
Not that we can count on any long-range forecast in a city that, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, has some of the most unpredictable weather in the nation.