Kansas City’s first female mayor finally has her permanent city namesake.
Mayor Sly James, along with other civic leaders, held a ceremony Friday dedicating the grand ballroom at the Kansas City Convention Center to Kay Barnes, 80, who revitalized the city’s downtown during her run as mayor from 1999-2007.
“Kay Barnes set the stage for this city’s revival that we are seeing continue to flourish,” James said. “If it wasn’t for what she did, we wouldn’t have this situation that we have now. It’s just that simple.”
James called Barnes, who spearheaded development projects for the Sprint Center and KC Power and Light District, a “pioneer” and said the impact she had on the city is still felt every day.
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“The foundation she laid is still being built on today,” James said. “The attitude of the people in the city, the way they care about the city, the way they love the city, the way they appreciate the things going on in the city, that started with Kay Barnes.”
James first announced a search for a way to honor Barnes in 2014, and considered parks, streets and the Broadway Bridge. In 2015, a court on the second floor of the College Basketball Experience near the Sprint Center was named after Barnes, and finally, James settled on the Convention Center ballroom.
Barnes, who attended the ceremony with her children and their spouses, walked down a small red carpet to the fight song of the University of Kansas, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. She thanked the roughly 100 audience members, many of whom she said “have worked hard for what we are celebrating today.”
“My son and daughter have been with me through all kinds of experiences, some of which they will be glad not to share with you,” Barnes said to laughs from the audience. “They have been everlastingly supportive, and they really are as important to me as any part of my life has ever been or ever will be.”
As part of the dedication, local artist Tom Corbin unveiled a bronze statue outside the ballroom called “Woman Walking Tall.” It depicts a woman walking steadfastly forward and projects an aura of strength and confidence, all attributes of Barnes’ time as mayor, Corbin said.
“Kay is kind, empathetic, extremely thoughtful and has a continued desire to give back to the community,” he said. “It is my hope that when you attend an event here in the future and stroll by the sculpture, you’ll be reminded of the enormous impact Kay had and has on Kansas City.”
Since finishing her service as mayor, Barnes has worked at Park University in Parkville. On Monday, she will begin a new position as the college's senior director for university engagement.
“It is a wonderful university and I am delighted to be a part of that family,” Barnes said, thanking the faculty members in attendance.
Wrapping up her remarks outside the newly dedicated Kay Barnes Grand Ballroom, the outside of which now bears her name in silver block letters, Barnes was succinct in summarizing both her career and the day’s ceremony.
“We have created something that we all can feel good about together,” she said.