Thanksgiving is the perfect day to discuss the progress made on a few local priorities — plus the work ahead to make things even better.
Kansas City’s urban core: Critics can hate on the “tiny” 2-mile streetcar start-up line all they want.
But within two years, I’m betting it’s going to be seen as a huge asset to a more vibrant core. And within three years or so, Kansas Citians likely will vote to expand it down Main Street to the Country Club Plaza, giving that stretch of midtown a shot of economic adrenaline as well.
Other needed steps include attracting more companies and residents downtown plus more homeowners and renters to neighborhoods to the east and south of downtown, while upgrading public amenities such as parks that people can enjoy.
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In many ways, the heart of Kansas City beats stronger than it did when I first wrote about it almost 30 years ago. Still, it will take even more dedicated people to battle blight, crime and other troubles to improve this important part of the city.
The local economy: Earlier this year I pointed out that the Kansas City area’s job growth numbers trailed too many of our peers. That was even after including all the good news that’s usually coming out of employers in Johnson County.
The Brookings Institution found some of the same flaws in a report to local business leaders.
The challenge now is to find ways to grow the local economy — on both sides of the state line — so we don’t get passed by other regional cities (looking at you, Des Moines and Omaha) as good places for young people and young families to locate.
Several initiatives are under way to attract employers to the region and build on what we already have. The newest is also the most nebulous, but also the one backed with the power of top businesses. KC Rising is described by the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City as “initially focused on building capacity within three economic drivers: globally competitive sectors, innovation and entrepreneurship, and human capital.”
Um, OK. Still, if the first step toward boosting the area’s anemic jobs market is recognizing that we have a problem, KC Rising gets the benefit of the doubt.
The Kansas budget: Voters narrowly decided this month to bring back Gov. Sam Brownback and his so-far failed policies of handing out excessive income tax cuts.
Now the price has to be paid for such fiscal folly, as revenues are falling hundreds of millions of dollars short of expectations.
The question on everyone’s minds in Johnson and Wyandotte counties ought to be this one: How far will Brownback and the Legislature go in cutting funds for public schools and roads? Local lawmakers, some of whom helped create the mess, must be fully involved in working out solutions to protect them from overly harsh reductions.
The West Bottoms: The American Royal’s overly aggressive attempt to knock down Kemper Arena and build a new events center there has spiraled out of control. Blaming the media and opponents, Royal officials have pulled back from their plan for now.
That gives city officials time to take a breath as well and look at something they’ve long needed to do: Work with developers, residents and businesses to determine what would be best for the future of the entire West Bottoms.
That’s going to include doing something with Kemper (eliminate or rehab it), but also should focus on bringing in more residents and more businesses to the old brick buildings and vacant land there.
The Kansas City Royals: In 2015, win just one more game in the World Series.