Streetcar Committee should reconsider including Brookside, Waldo

03/28/2014 3:36 PM

03/28/2014 3:36 PM

Kansas City is at a fork in the road. The recent recommendation of the Streetcar Committee not to go south and utilize the Country Club Car Line right of way in the next expansion phase is a mistake.

As a student of real estate development and city planning in Kansas City, I base my opinion on the following realities:

1) Kansas City has many needs and many funding limits, which restrict our investment choices. As a consequence, we need to spend our limited taxpayer money as wisely as possible and in a way that is as catalytic as possible if we want to increase good jobs and build our tax base.

2) A basic objective of real estate development is to add two and two and get five as a result. This is the principal of synergism and momentum.

3) Linkage and connectivity is essential to building momentum and synergism. Those areas of our city that have synergism and growth momentum attract developers and risk takers. Those are the places where investors feel they have the best prospects for success. They wisely avoid the high risk, low success reward areas of our city.

4) One of the best examples of synergistic linkage and connectivity in our metropolitan area is the College Boulevard and Interstate 435 corridor extending east to west across south Kansas City and south Johnson County. The decision of Johnson County and Overland Park 40 years ago to build College Boulevard from State Line to Interstate 35 parallel to the then newly opened I-435 created the largest and most successful office development corridor in metropolitan Kansas City. Today, more first-class office space exists in that Johnson County corridor than all of the combined first class-office space in Kansas City Missouri combined.

5) Why did that shift happen? It happened because a major infrastructure investment was placed where there was good land in strong hands and where it was attractive to those investors and decision-makers who build cities.

6) Those of us who love Kansas City and want to see it prosper and provide opportunities for all of our citizens realize that we must revitalize the inner city — but most importantly, we must allocate our resources to those areas in the inner city that are most likely to succeed.

7) The best prospect for major investment and future employment growth in our inner city is the nearly 1,300-acre area in the triangle bounded on the north by 87th Street and extending south to Three-Trails Crossing (the former Grandview Triangle). This area is bounded on the west by U.S. 71 (Interstate 49) and on the east by I-435. In this area are more than 1,300 acres owned by four or five entities. Guess how it is connected and linked to our city — via the Country Club Car Line right of way.

8) In the last several years, nearly $400 million has been invested by public and private sources to create an inner city area that will attract high paying jobs and an enhanced tax base.

9) To list just a few of these investments:

a. Consider the nearly $225 million spent by our city, state and federal government rebuilding the Grandview Triangle, now named the Three Trails Crossing.

b. The $18 million spent building the new 87th Street from I-435 to U.S. 71.

c. The recently announced Cerner office development, which will eventually employ up to 15,000 people — an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars.

d. The recently announced “Oxford on the Blue” office and research park of James E. Stowers on 350 acres on the north side of 87th Street.

e. The $35,000,000 investment of The Foley Company at 87th Street & I-435.

f. The investment by the Francis family in the multimillion-dollar rehabilitation of the 1912 Hillcrest Country Club and its 155 acres at 83rd Street and Hillcrest Road.

Earlier, I mentioned the Kansas decision to invest in building College Boulevard parallel to the east-west I-435. A comparable pairing opportunity exists with the Country Club Car Line right of way, which parallels U.S. 71/Bruce R. Watkins Parkway. Both of these examples illustrate the linkage and connectivity principle, which is so important to building communities.

Our top priority should be to restore the Street Car right of way SPINE from Third Street and Grand Boulevard to 85th Street and Prospect Avenue. That right of way creates connectivity through the heart of our city linking our best future development lands with the high density residential areas of Waldo, Brookside, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and those areas all the way downtown. Our second priority should be to go east on Independence Avenue and Linwood Boulevard after completion of the spine.

In the interim, those areas can be served by improved bus lines. If our objective is to create major employment centers, enhanced tax base and better economic health for the inner city — I challenge you to find a better location with more than 1,300 acres of development-ready land than the bio-tech triangle mentioned above.

Cerner’s recent announcement to build its huge complex at that location is proof of that statement. A vocal minority who claim they want to “Save the Trolley Trail” have made many false and misleading statements. Their words have done a disservice to our community.

First of all, the Trolley Trail is owned by the Kansas City Area Transit Authority. The Trolley Trail does not belong to the abutting neighbors. The old Country Club Car Line right of way was never abandoned.

In a famous case, the Missouri Supreme Court decided that issue and threw out the city of Kansas City’s condemnation suit of the Ashley family’s “Kansas City Transit Freight Service.” The Ashley family owned the right of way as an Interstate Commerce Commission regulated short haul railroad.

The Ashley family then sold their railroad right of way to the area transit authority for future rail use. The ATA then built the Trolley Trail on their right of way as an interim use. The ATA has ownership of that property and the right to remove the trail anytime they elect to do so.

The important thing to understand is that the Trolley Trail exists because the ATA owns the right of way. At some time in the future, the ATA or a successor plans to use it for rail vehicles. That rail right of way has been there since shortly after the Civil War. It has never been a nuisance or a danger.

Another thing the Street Car Advisory Group didn’t seem to realize is that a large segment of the voters needed to approve any streetcar phased expansion live in the Brookside corridor from 47th Street south to 85th Street. By the streetcar committee not understanding the importance of the right of way’s linkage and connectivity described above, Kansas City misses a great opportunity to attract major development in a part of our inner city that has the best prospects to attract investment.

There is no comparable area to the east, via Independence Avenue, or Linwood, that has comparable interstate connectivity, 1,300 contiguous acres of assembled and cleared land or investment already in place.

The Street Car Advisory Group needs to reconsider its recommendation and not risk the allocation of our limited resources in the wrong place.

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