What does KC’s urban core need? Here are $24 million worth of ideas

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Sod was being laid down on the Harris Park Golf & Learning Center on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, at 40th Street and Wayne Avenue. The putt and pitch course has been a dream of Chis Harris and his father for over 20 years.
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Sod was being laid down on the Harris Park Golf & Learning Center on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, at 40th Street and Wayne Avenue. The putt and pitch course has been a dream of Chis Harris and his father for over 20 years.

Cottage-style homes for seniors. A major redevelopment of the Linwood Square Shopping Center. New early childhood education facilities. A putt-putt golf course.

There are $24 million worth of proposals vying for the estimated $8 million generated so far by the one-eighth cent sales tax for economic development in Kansas City’ urban core. Twenty-two applicants made their cases in public for the first time Wednesday evening to the board charged with recommending projects to the City Council.

The panel, known formally as the Central City Economic Development Sales Tax Board, is expected to make its selections within the next 30 days.

The tax, approved by voters citywide in 2017, is expected to eventually raise about $10 million a year to revitalize struggling communities in the area bounded by The Paseo, Indiana Avenue, Ninth Street and Gregory Boulevard.

Some of the proposing groups want the money to close gaps in financing they have obtained from other sources. Others want to use tax revenue to attract other investment. They all received a maximum of six minutes to make their case at the Southeast Community Center on East 63rd Street.

The applicants included some familiar names. Developer Don Maxwell is seeking $4.4 million for a renovation of the Linwood Square Shopping Center on the east side of Prospect Avenue between 31st Street and Linwood Boulevard.

In 2015, the city spent $950,000 to purchase the then-moribund shopping strip across the street from an entity established by Maxwell. The deal paved the way for the opening of the Sun Fresh supermarket earlier this year.

Maxwell said renovation of Linwood Square, which would cost a total of $8.8 million, “would be a catalytic development project” for the area.

The costliest proposal, at $5 million, came from two non-profits devoted to helping victims of child abuse and sexual assault. The Child Protection Center and the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault want to build a combined facility on land the city owns at 61st and Prospect. The organizations would also lease space to the Jackson County Prosecutors Office and the Kansas City Police.

The total cost of the project is $30 million, funded with private donations and federal tax credits. But it cannot be completed without help from the sales tax board, representatives of both organizations said.

Other ideas were smaller in scale but their sponsors equally passionate. Chris Harris has spent 20 years transforming empty lots and vacant houses along Wayne Avenue between 40th and 41st streets into a four-acre urban sports park with basketball and volleyball courts, green space and a playground.

The goal, he said, is “to use sports to clean up a neighborhood and educate a community.” Now Harris is asking for $150,000 to complete financing for a pitch-and-putt golf course to introduce the game to kids in the urban core.

Some of those who attended Wednesday night criticized the board for not involving the community more closely and for not rigorously analyzing where and how the money should be spent. Questions have also been raised about the board’s frequent closed sessions to evaluate proposals.

“We’ve got to do these projects with the people,” said Saundra Hayes, former president of the Historic Manheim Park Association. “Please bring the residents in here.”

Attorney Herb Hardwick, the board chair, said he was satisfied with the level of public participation.

“This has been an ongoing process,” he said, “one going on for several months.”

The other board members are vice chair Melissa Patterson-Hazley, Donna Wilson, Ronald Finley and Keith Brown.

Other groups, their plans and financial requests included:

Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council, eight cottage-style homes for seniors on East 39th Street, $933,840.

MacPen Enterprises LLC, a facility for child care, early education and pediatric care at 21st and Prospect, $1 million

M2M Community Foundation, urban agriculture structure for aquaponics, 29th and Wabash, $987,000

National Association of Construction Contractors Cooperative, a grant to rehabilitate homes in Town Fork Creek area, $215,000

Palestine Economic Deveopment Corp, a 39-bed assisted living facility at 35th and Prospect, $2.1 million.

Emmanuel Family and Child Development Center, new early education facility at 47th and Prospect, $725,000