Backers of the first-ever “Fiery Stick Open” festival this July at the Liberty Memorial hope to score a fun hole-in-one with the millennial generation.
The event is the tee-off for a new initiative called LiveKC. It’s intended to make the area more appealing to the generation born roughly between 1982 and 2004; sponsors include some of the area’s biggest companies such as Cerner Corp., Sprint Corp. and Hallmark Cards Inc. “It’s the major employers in Kansas City, all of whom are facing some of the same issues when it comes to attracting millennials to their company,” said Robb Heineman, chief executive of Sporting Kansas City.
But Heineman, who has been joined by Cliff Illig, a Cerner co-founder and a Sporting owner, in spearheading the event, emphasized LiveKC, which is launching its website, LiveKC.org
, today, is not going to be another dull mixer for young professionals.
“We’re focusing on people getting phone numbers, not business cards,” he said. “It’s far more social than corporate.”
Kansas City has had success in attracting millennials.
A recent survey by the Brookings Institution found the area gained about 2,200 young adults annually between 2009 and 2012, 14th among the 51 American metros with more than a million people. It’s also gotten good buzz from social media, including Vocativ, which ranked Kansas City 21st on a list of “35 Best U.S. Cities for People Under 35.”
But Heineman said local companies know the allure of bigger places including Chicago, New York and San Francisco makes the competition tough. Cerner, for example, is planning to hire thousands of new employees, many of them younger and tech savvy, as the health care technology giant expands into its new campus planned for the site of the former Bannister Mall in south Kansas City.
“Cliff sees not only his business but his peers’ businesses having challenges hiring information technology employees,” Heineman said. “When we’re up against places like Chicago, the quality of living and fun are not always in Kansas City.”
And if anybody knows how to throw a fun time for millennials, it’s Sporting Kansas City, the major league soccer franchise, which has quickly become a hit with young adults since moving several years ago to its new stadium in western Wyandotte County.
The boisterous fan section at Sporting Park called the Cauldron is the kind of atmosphere Heineman hopes to create at LiveKC events.
That’s the inspiration for the Fiery Stick Open, scheduled for 3-8 p.m. July 18, a Friday. It gets its name from the flame atop the Liberty Memorial. General admission is $10, and though it’s geared to millennials, everyone is welcome.
The centerpiece of the party will be a 170-yard, par 3 golf hole laid out on the north lawn of Liberty Memorial. More than 2,500 people are expected, and a drawing will be held to select about 150 who will be able to compete for a million-dollar, hole-in-one shootout.
Heineman said organizers want to recreate the kind of raucous atmosphere that occurs at the 16th hole of the Phoenix Open PGA tournament. That event attracts more than 15,000 people to grandstands and corporate suites around the hole, and was recently described by Bleacher Report as a “haven for lunatics and loudness.”
Besides the hole-in-one tournament, the other activities planned include a pop-up country club featuring other leisure sports, a row of food trucks, bars, DJs and live music. After the Fiery Stick is over, people will be encouraged to continue the party in the Crossroads Arts District and other downtown locations.
Mike Hurd, marketing director for the Downtown Council, which has launched its own initiative to attract millennials through a program called “tactical urbanism,” said his agency fully embraces the LiveKC initiative. “We applaud their efforts,” he said. “A lot of the work the Downtown Council is doing now is very much in harmony with this.”
Aiding the LiveKC campaign is a “think tank” drawn from millennials employed at the 14 companies that are partners in the effort. the other firms include Black & Veatch, Burns & McDonnell, DST Systems, J.E. Dunn, H&R Block, Kansas City Power & Light and the Polsinelli and Shook Hardy law firms.
Each firm has picked seven employees to serve as LiveKC ambassadors, and among them, two are selected for the think tank.
“Our sole purpose is to make Kansas City a better place to live, work and play,” said Erik Wullschleger, who works at the Sprint Accelerator in downtown. “We want to keep smart kids here in Kansas City and attract them from surrounding areas.”
Wullschleger, 32, is a native of Omaha who moved here 10 years ago.
“The idea is to find ways to get people off their couch and get involved in the community,” he said. “We recently had a brainstorming party at which we threw out ideas about events we’d like to go to.”
This fall, LiveKC plans to hold what it’s calling the Oregon Trail Pub Crawl. It’s a nod to a 1990s video game popular when millennials were kids that followed the travails of a wagon train in the Old West. Players assumed the roles of pioneers, some of whom die along the way.
The plan calls for millennials to form teams and race from Westport to the Plaza — the hope is to create a local version of the San Francisco “Bay to Breakers” race.
Other plans include World Cup Watch Parties this summer at the Power & Light District, an event called “LiveOutsidetheLines” at the Plaza Art Fair in the fall, and next year the LiveKC ½K, billed as Kansas City’s shortest road race.
Ashley Voss, business development manager at Sporting Kansas City, is a member of the planning group. The 33-year-old grew up in the area but left after graduating from the University of Kansas in 2003 to live in Northern California. A desire to be closer to her family brought her back in 2008.
It helped that the Kansas City she’d left had improved markedly.
“I felt differently about the city when I returned,” she said. “There was life in downtown, Westport had changed, and there were award-winning chefs here.”
Voss said the initial Fiery Stick Open should be a great example of what LiveKC is about.
“Everybody loves a challenge,” she said. “Why not an urban country club? Nobody would think of Liberty Memorial with a golf hole and a million-dollar shootout.”
And in a footnote, LiveKC also has some more serious ideas about improving Kansas City for millennials. Its agenda includes the possibility of providing tax incentives to people under 30 to move to designated areas of the city; tax incentives to encourage more first floor retail development downtown; and encouraging more transportation options including the streetcar and ride-share services such as Lyft and Uber.
“Our goal is to show people what’s in Kansas City year round,” Voss said.
The Fiery Stick Open
• The inaugural for LiveKC is scheduled for 3-8 p.m. July 18 at the Liberty Memorial.
• The event gets its name from the flame atop the memorial.
• Admission is $10 and, though it’s geared to millennials, everyone is welcome.
• The centerpiece of the party will be a 170-yard, par 3 golf hole laid out on the north lawn.