Here are six words of advice for city officials, financial consultants, economic development lawyers, civic leaders and others who like to offer grand ideas to improve Kansas City:
Things don’t always go as planned.
From the late 1980s to now, I’ve seen dozens of proposals unveiled to “solve” all kinds of challenges facing the city, usually with healthy amounts of taxpayer funds.
The latest to capture attention is the idea to better connect the Crossroads Arts District with the 18th and Vine area. It eventually could entail adding bike lanes, wider sidewalks, trees and park-like areas for events along 18th Street. The plans are intriguing and relatively cheap.
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However, they also aren’t high priorities for a city with plenty of other infrastructure needs on its to-do list. One alternative is to hope the Crossroads expansion keeps rolling east, and a link between the districts develops for good financial reasons.
Over the years, suggestions on creating a better quality of life in Kansas City have fallen into two general categories.
▪ Some proposals work out as hoped, maybe even better.
Put the Harry Wiggins Trolley Track Trail for walkers, runners and bicyclists in that category. Who knew six miles of an old streetcar right-of-way could be so popular?
The Power & Light District’s “living room” is an example of a public space that — while dead much of the daytime — is crammed with late-night weekend revelers plus sports fans during big events.
The renovations of Loose Park’s rose garden, shelter spaces, trails, tennis courts and other amenities — with the help of private dollars — have turned a once-flagging asset into a green space that’s a beehive of activity for all ages.
On a much larger and more costly scale, Kauffman Stadium has been transformed into a 360-degree walkable ballpark where people hang out, drink, ride a carousel and now watch a lot of winning baseball.
Union Station has gone from an often-criticized, often-empty building in the years after its re-opening in 1999 to a much-used, beautiful public asset.
▪ Then there are the big ideas that get funded but don’t have the hoped-for impact.
Too many projects qualify for that list, considering the public dollars that are spent to chase bold promises of reviving Kansas City.
Millions of dollars were used to create Richard Berkley Riverfront Park, add roads and rebuild the Grand Boulevard viaduct in the 1990s. But construction of large office buildings never materialized, and neither did an aquarium. New housing units finally are on the way to the area.
Kansas City Zoo upgrades, finished in 1995, boosted attendance over the next seven years. But attendance fell again in the early 2000s, a trend that reversed only after another large infusion of public funds and popular animals such as polar bears and penguins.
The Brush Creek walkways, opened in 1995 as part of a flood control project, have never attained the hoped-for popularity of anything close to the San Antonio River Walk, which features much more retail and commercial activity.
The civic mall north of City Hall was built in the mid-1990s after officials tore down two square blocks of mostly blighted property. Still, Ilus W. Davis Park has not become the once-envisioned magnet for popular public events.
Bruce R. Watkins Drive has failed to lure redevelopment on both sides of the long-delayed highway.
Finally, the 18th and Vine area is a longtime poster child for unfulfilled promises.
Looking ahead, construction of the downtown streetcar line is the Next Big Thing in Kansas City. Boosters pledge it will move people and attract investment.
Unless, of course, things don’t go as planned.