Kansas City and its surrounding communities had an action-packed 2017, setting the stage for an even more eventful year in 2018.
Kansas City voters finally settled on a new direction for the airport in 2017, but future big decisions loom. The Jackson County Legislature wrestled with a crisis involving its decrepit and dangerous jail, and a long-term solution remains elusive. And the Johnson County Commission dismissed its veteran county manager, although many people couldn’t understand why.
So looking ahead, there’s lots of unfinished business. Here are key KC metro projects we’re watching, plus other plans and challenges that will either show progress or foreshadow more controversy in 2018:
1. KCI airport’s modernization project. People might have thought everything was settled after Kansas City voters approved a new single-terminal plan in November. But the emotional roller-coaster ride continued through December, after the city council nearly pulled the plug on its chosen developer, Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate.
In its last meeting of 2017, the council gave lawyers and Edgemoor until the end of January to try to negotiate a workable memorandum of understanding, or roadmap for the project.
If the conflict abates and the planning gets on a smoother path, the existing Terminal A could be demolished later this year. Construction could start on a new $1 billion building, while the current Terminals B and C continue to function. Optimists hope the new terminal building can be completed by the end of 2021.
2. Kansas City Convention Hotel. This $322 million project has had almost as many setbacks and delays as the new airport. But it’s finally supposed to start rising out of the ground near Bartle Hall, with city funding and a big investment from the Loews resort hotel chain.
A groundbreaking had tentatively been set for Jan. 2 but that’s not happening. It’s now slated for sometime early in 2018. The hotel must be completed before July 2020 if it is to host its first major convention at that time, the Shriners International convention.
3. The Urban Youth Baseball Academy. This facility, sponsored by Major League Baseball and the Kansas City Royals, will transform Parade Park just north of the 18th and Vine Jazz District.
The impressive $19 million complex features four outdoor fields, plus an indoor facility with a regulation major-league sized infield as well as batting cages and pitching mounds. The focus will be on both baseball and softball. Participants, ages 6-18, will learn not just athletic skills and character development but also about the business of sports and career opportunities. The grand opening is set for March 30, the day after the Royals’ season opener.
The long-awaited Linwood Shopping Center redevelopment, with a new urban grocery at Linwood Boulevard and Prospect Avenue, should also be completed in spring 2018.
4. Two Light. The luxury highrise apartment building opens downtown this summer. The 24-story, 300-unit tower is rising on the block just north of Truman Road between Grand Boulevard and Walnut Avenue. It’s part of the Cordish Cos. Power & Light District development, which also includes the 25-story One Light project at 13th Street and Walnut.
And yes, we’re told there’s a Three Light deal in the works. More information about Three Light, which would be built just west of Two Light, will be announced in early January. A measure spelling out Kansas City’s financial contribution is supposed to be introduced at City Hall the second week of January.
5. Kemper Arena redevelopment. Foutch Brothers, which acquired Kemper Arena from the city, endured delays in 2017 with its historic tax credits, but the $39 million construction project is now well underway.
The former city arena in the West Bottoms will be repurposed as an amateur regional sports facility for families, youth and adults. It has space for all sorts of team sports, including basketball, volleyball and gymnastics, plus a multilane running and bicycle track.
The facility is expected to open in September. It was supposed to be renamed Mosaic Arena after Mosaic Life agreed in 2016 to buy the naming rights. But that deal recently fell through. Foutch is considering other naming rights options.
6. KC Streetcar expansion. In a Midtown mail-in election in summer 2017, voters approved a special taxing district to take the streetcar from downtown to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
But a citywide election in August 2017 cast doubt on streetcar expansion. So the Kansas City Council will try in January to figure out how to proceed, although it may all wind up in court with streetcar opponents. The Kansas City Streetcar Authority also hopes a more specific plan will emerge in 2018 to take the streetcar north to Berkley Riverfront Park.
7. Verruckt water slide. Schlitterbahn had hoped to tear down the 17-story Verruckt in 2017, after a child died on the ride near the Legends in 2016. But a court order prevented that from happening. The Kansas Attorney General continues to investigate whether the circumstances that led to 10-year-old Caleb Schwab’s death warrant criminal charges. The company still hopes to tear down the structure in 2018.
8. New mayor. One of the biggest upsets in the November 2017 elections was the defeat of Unified Government Mayor Mark Holland by challenger David Alvey.
Alvey, a Board of Public Utilities director, will be sworn in as new mayor in Kansas City, Kan., on Jan. 8. Alvey has said he would have lowered taxes at a faster rate than Holland did, and he wants to take a harder look at development incentive deals. Observers will also be watching how Alvey deals with the fire department’s spending, one of the biggest line items in the UG budget.
9. New county manager. The Johnson County Commission also surprised many residents in late November, with its 4-3 vote not to renew the contract for County Manager Hannes Zacharias, who had been in that position since 2009. The commission is expected to lay out plans in January for a national search for Zacharias’ replacement. But filling the position could be a challenge, as four of the seven commission seats, including the commission chairman seat, are up for election in November 2018.
10. Jackson County jail. As 2017 came to a close, the Jackson County Legislature and County Executive Frank White were bitterly at odds over such issues as budget priorities and the future of the Jackson County jail. It remains to be seen if they can overcome those fierce differences, and find consensus on whether to build a new jail.