Kansas City is at a crossroads.
So much of the city’s focus in recent years has been on a sparkling new airport terminal, a burgeoning streetcar system, a long-planned convention hotel and a thriving downtown. Much of that work is now accomplished, so an obvious question looms:
City Manager Troy Schulte has plunged head-first into the breach with a sensible and well-timed proposal. He’s calling for a major strategic study aimed at producing a list of priorities that would guide Kansas City for the next decade. His idea is to engage the community in a dialogue, then produce a report in a year or so that would serve as a blueprint for the next mayor and City Council.
“It’s important to have community support,” noted city spokesman Chris Hernandez. “This study can help us determine which of these big projects do have that kind of support.”
Here are some of the big, meaty and potentially transformative ideas now on Schulte’s list:
▪ Removing or dramatically modifying the North Loop freeway that separates downtown from the River Market. Some have suggested the North Loop never should have been built. Another option is to limit the number of freeway access points that today make the North Loop a scary drive. Still another is to rebuild the freeway in a tighter footprint and use the newly freed land for other development.
▪ Building a long-discussed deck over Interstate 670 downtown, also known as the South Loop, that would extend four blocks from Grand Boulevard to Wyandotte Street.
▪ Replacing the Broadway bridge.
▪ Lowering the Missouri 9 highway bridge to provide easier connections to the River Market and Columbus Park.
“Always, always the challenge is to figure out what we can do, how we can do it and in which order,” Hernandez said.
Of course, other ideas are percolating out there as well. One is the need for a housing trust fund to bolster the city’s low-income housing program. Still another is investing in the Blue River-Leeds area to boost that area of eastern Kansas City. Before any study is launched, city leaders need to make sure all projects that need prioritizing are included.
But Schulte is on the right track.
This, of course, wouldn’t be the first time that Kansas City has paused to prioritize future projects. In the early years of this century, a plan pieced together by Sasaki Associates Inc. of Waterown, Massachusetts, created a template for extensive upgrades to downtown Kansas City. The plan gave birth to, or propelled, ideas that included the Sprint Center and new purposes for downtown outside of its traditional retail moorings.
Then-Mayor Kay Barnes introduced a massive package of improvements for downtown and the stadiums at a 2001 news conference.
“This is an unprecedented gathering of civic and political leaders united with an enlarged vision of our community and what it can become,” she said that day.
At that time, Kansas City stood on the brink of a dramatic transformation of its downtown. Today, the objective is different, and the focus is on continuing the momentum of a freshly restyled central business district that Kansas Citians of 2001 would find almost unrecognizable.
City officials say this new study would cost $300,000 and would be privately funded. Pausing at such an important moment is a sound, common-sense idea as Kansas City gears up for its next big push.