Revamp gives a boost to Kansas City’s Main Street

A “new” neighborhood in Kansas City is asserting its identity as a place as distinct and vibrant as the Crossroads and the River Market have become.

The Main Street District, the often under-appreciated link between Downtown and the Country Club Plaza, is getting a visual makeover. A white “M” within a red circle is the branding logo sprouting up along the whole midtown stretch.

Main Street is also experiencing an infusion of private investment, with millions of dollars being pumped into underused or vacant properties. That includes Capitol Federal Savings Bank’s recent purchase of the vacant northwest corner of 43rd and Main.

All of this progress will be celebrated today as MainCor, the nonprofit Main Street Corridor Development Corp., marks its three decades with a party in a newly created plaza across from the old Katz Drugstore — which is itself headed for rebirth as a cultural center.

“Main Street has never gotten this kind of love before,” said Diane Burnette, executive director of MainCor.

A new streetscape is emerging to make the stretch more inviting and to underscore its connectivity.

The first stretch — from 38th Street to 44th Street and along 43rd Street from Broadway to Oak — is substantially complete. The second phase, north to 34th Street, is in progress. Officials hope eventually to extend the plan all the way to Pershing Road at the foot of Union Station.

The color red will be an identifier throughout the district, used on signs attached to light poles.

And there is more light.

Much of Main Street had streetlights only on one side. The improvement project is adding them on both sides, enhancing aesthetics as well as safety. The project also includes sleek pedestrian lights closer to the ground.

The sidewalks are being replaced, and crosswalks are marked by colored concrete.

Trees are being planted along with other landscaping elements to soften the urban environment. There are new benches and bike racks to encourage pedestrians and non-motorized transportation.

“I personally have already noticed more people walking up and down Main Street,” said Kate Corwin, who lives in the Southmoreland neighborhood, which abuts Main Street on the east. “It’s starting to look like something is going on there.”

Main Street in midtown is a century old, and the streetscape project embraces that past with historical markers embedded in the pavement. At the new plaza just north of 40th Street, four panels, standing eight feet tall, explain more of that history along with photographs of Main Street back in the day. The panels and the plaza are well lit at night.

Two-way traffic was eliminated from a diagonal offshoot of Main to make room for the new plaza, and there are traffic-slowing devices elsewhere.

“The whole goal of everything that we’re doing is to make Main Street a better place for everybody,” Burnette said. “We don’t want it to be a suburban highway thoroughfare. You want it to remain a neighborhood street that happens to move lots of vehicles.”

The first two phases cost about $7.5 million. Most of that came from revenue produced by two tax-increment financing districts, including the one with the new Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, which is just off Main.

But the city also contributed nearly $2 million from bond sales and sales-tax revenue, indicating the Main Street project has broad support at City Hall. The City Council on Thursday approved a resolution honoring MainCor’s efforts.

“It’s clean, it’s safe and businesses are moving in,” Councilwoman Jan Marcason said of the corridor, which is in her district. “It’s just what a Main Street should be.”

Mayor Sly James said he is impressed by the architectural changes in the streetscape.

“You changed the way it looks, and because of that you’ve changed the way people feel about it,” James told MainCor leaders. “That is a huge, huge thing to do.”

Former City Councilwoman Aggie Stackhaus, who lives in nearby Hyde Park, is concerned, though, that the upkeep of the improvements may be too much to handle.

“I’m thrilled to death that Main Street finally got a streetscape, and I worked on it,” she said. “However, I cautioned and cautioned about overdoing it. It’s got too many baubles and trinkets to maintain.”

Confluence was the lead designer of the streetscape. Greenleaf Construction is the contractor, and Zimmer Real Estate Services is the project manager. But MainCor is obligated by an agreement with the city to maintain the improvements. It intends to do that with a crew of 14 “redshirts,” who are combination maintenance men and security guards hired by the Main Street Community Improvement District, funded by property owners.

The list of property owners is adding new members.

Capitol Federal of Topeka purchased two parcels on the northwest corner of 43rd and Main, a key location that has been vacant. Capitol Federal expects to begin construction by summer for its first full-service bank in the downtown/midtown area.

The bank looked at several locations before choosing that spot, knowing it is at the doorway to the district that incudes the Kansas City Art Institute, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

“We understand the relevance of that site,” said Capitol Federal First Vice President Ken Scott, adding that the bank embraces the opportunity to be part of a resurgent Main Street.

Another newcomer will be the nonprofit organization The Whole Person, which last year purchased the former Goodenow Textile building at 3710 Main. The organization, which serves people with disabilities, is spending about $5 million in buying and renovating the building to consolidate its operations there. It hopes to move in by early next year.

“We just kind of fell in love with it,” said Chief Executive Officer David Robinson. “Main Street is going to make us look good, and we intend to make Main Street look good.”

One of The Whole Person’s new neighbors will be the Reeves-Wiedeman Co., a plumbing supply house that also invested nearly $5 million in a two-story building at 3635 Main, which it bought about three years ago.

Company President Ted Wiedeman says this is the first time in his life he has been able to take the bus to work. He said the feeling of optimism along Main Street is infectious, as many other owners are making improvements to their properties as well.

“We’re glad we’re here,” said Wiedeman, who joined MainCor and is now on the board. “Our timing was the greatest. All of a sudden there is a lot more going on. It’s not just people talking.”