The 18th and Vine Jazz District was a tranquil place on a warm Monday afternoon, two days before efforts to boost its lagging fortunes are set to go before the Kansas City Council.
Even as longtime supporters of the district, we find it hard to justify the full list of projects included in a proposed $27 million public funding plan put together in recent months.
That’s said with full knowledge that taxpayers have lavished tens of millions of dollars on other entertainment venues, such as the Power & Light District and the Country Club Plaza. But those and other projects came with the added benefit of heavy private investment, which 18th & Vine does not yet have.
True, the public may have to pump more money into 18th & Vine and other parts of the East Side. They have lacked significant private investment from developers scared off by crime, shaky property values and other problems.
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Here’s the rub: Is the $27 million plan really the highest priority for taxpayer funds that could be used in many other neighborhoods on the East Side?
It’s tough to justify a $1 million-plus plaza and fountain being more crucial than, say, new sidewalks to help kids get to school more safely.
Just recently, the city began a valuable $10 million plan to tear down dangerous buildings, many in East Side neighborhoods. But council members have wondered where they’d get the funds to help redevelop vacant ground left behind. How about using some or all of this $27 million for that worthy cause?
Supporters of 18th & Vine say focusing funds on this few square blocks of historic Kansas City could spur more housing and retail development. Where’s the proof for that statement, especially from the private sector?
The district has suffered from bitter infighting even among proponents for several decades as well as the lack of reasonable redevelopment plans backed with solid marketing. Who’s in charge of improving that situation before money flows out the doors of City Hall?
Spending millions on the Buck O’Neil Education Center, American Jazz Museum and Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey headquarters could make them more viable entities. Again, are those really higher priorities than using taxpayer funds for upgrades that touch the day-to-day lives of thousands of East Side residents?
City Council members will need to balance what’s “fair” for the district as they also focus on the fact they could have less to spend on needed improvements elsewhere in Kansas City’s neglected neighborhoods. The current proposal needs to be reconfigured.