As a surge of investment transforms historic neighborhoods, Kansas City's transportation agency has an idea to connect pockets of redevelopment in the sprawling city.
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority issued a request for proposals, or RFP, that closed Monday to gauge firms' interest in redeveloping some — or maybe all — of the agency's land near Troost Avenue and 18th Street, about halfway between the east reaches of the Crossroads Arts District and the historic 18th and Vine Jazz District.
Among other requirements, the agency wants any potential development to better connect the Crossroads and 18th and Vine districts by transit or by making the stretch more walkable.
“You could create enough scale and density and critical mass down there that it would be potentially powerful to connect the two parts of the city," said Greg Flisram, senior vice president of business and real estate development at the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City.
KCATA owns some vacant land at the northeast corner of the intersection and a 20-acre campus along 18th Street, which it uses for its transit operation and maintenance base and administrative offices.
“This would be a prime spot for development, we think, and I know other people do, too," KCATA CEO Robbie Makinen said.
Makinen said the agency was going through the proposals and would be setting up meetings with Kansas City and Economic Development Corporation officials in the coming weeks. So far, he's seen proposals suggesting "anything from just different kinds of mixed-use development on 18th Street to the possibility of getting more into the campus as a whole.”
At a minimum, KCATC says, it would like to see the vacant land used, but is looking for creative proposals that can boost the quality of life in the area and potentially use the entire 20-acre campus.
"Although much of the surrounding area is currently industrial, KCATA is interested in promoting to change the character of the proposed site with development options that would bring density for mixed use development, including commercial, location-appropriate retail, restaurant and residential," the RFP says.
Makinen said developing the vacant lots would be helpful to the community as a whole.
“If you want to talk about development on the east side, the ATA is doing it," Makinen said, citing the agency's bus project along Prospect Avenue and land purchases it has made.
In terms of connecting the Crossroads to 18th and Vine, Flisram said the distance between the two districts is more "psychological" than physical, but 18th and Vine is still "an island."
"It's so separated both in terms of having (Bruce R. Watkins Drive) bisect it, but also, you have this kind of no man's land between the East Crossroads and 18th and Vine," Flisram said.
Kansas City Councilman Jermaine Reed said the 18th and Troost corridor would be an "important nexus" in connecting the Crossroads to 18th and Vine.
“18th and Vine is an important cultural destination in our city and with the renaissance that we have seen with Crossroads, I believe it’s important to move that from the west to the east and vice versa," Reed said.
Reed said some members of the community don't think it's important to connect 18th and Vine to other Kansas City neighborhoods, and "some, of course, subscribe to the notion that it has its own unique, authentic place in our community and that it doesn’t need to connect."
He disputed that, saying it's important to connect parts of the community to strengthen the whole.
The RFP emphasizes KCATA's focus on connecting neighborhoods.
"KCATA would like to see proposals that add to emerging development patterns in the surrounding area," the RFP says, citing developments along Troost and in downtown, Hospital Hill, Beacon Hill, the 18th and Vine and the Crossroads.
Reed said that he had already had conversations with "a few large companies" interested in KCATA's property and that the city had worked collaboratively with the transportation agency.
If a developer plans a large-scale project at the site, Makinen said KCATA could start storing its bus fleet at satellite locations closer to their routes, which would save money the agency could invest in projects. Any proposal, he said, would still have to have a large transit footprint, which could include office space for KCATA and easy access for riders to various modes of transit.
KCATA's RFP closed June 25. Reed said he thinks the earliest a developer could break ground on a project is a year from now, but Makinen said it was premature to assign a timeline to any project.