KC Strip trolley service shuts down

Kansas City’s weekend entertainment trolley, which ran from Waldo to the River Market, had recently been looking at expanding to the Northland and Johnson County.

Instead, the KC Strip is shutting down.

Bill George, chief executive officer of the Kansas City Transportation Group, confirmed Monday that his trolley venture was ending. He blamed Cordish Co. and its affiliated company ECI, which operates several restaurants and bars in the Power & Light District.

George said that ECI no longer wanted its operations listed in KCStrip guides, which offer discounts to about 60 establishments on the route. George said he spent about $10,000 on a recent run of 400,000 guides, which would no longer be valid.

“So it’s two-fold. One, we don’t want to go to the expense of printing all of the collateral pieces again immediately. And two, we didn’t want to risk losing ridership if Power & Light wasn’t participating in the discounts,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is not worth the battle.”

Nick Benjamin, executive director of the Power & Light District, said in a statement that the district has “always been a supporter of and participant in the KC Strip” and continues to support it. The district has a dedicated stop for the trolley, he said.

“We were saddened and disappointed to hear that they are shutting down,” Benjamin said.

The trolley launched in spring 2010 and ran on Friday and Saturday nights from Waldo to Brookside, the Plaza, Westport, Martini Corner (31st and Oak streets), 18th and Vine, the Crossroads and downtown — and back. For $10, customers could ride all evening without worrying about parking or driving after drinking.

George said most customers patronized the downtown Power & Light District.

“The Power & Light District is our No. 1 destination. We dropped 15,000 people off down there last year,” George said.

Westport entrepreneur Bill Nigro, who greeted passengers and helped coordinate the drivers, said Monday night that he had loved the project and was disappointed and frustrated that it was ending. He said the “feedback from riders was incredible,” and the trolley program worked well on Saturday nights but not on Fridays.

The demise of the trolley is also a blow for Kansas City government, which had subsidized the project.

When it began, the KC Strip received $100,000 in tourism tax dollars through the Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund.

Kansas City also provided a $200,000 no-interest loan in October 2009 to jumpstart the trolley. It was to be paid back in monthly installments over four years, beginning in May 2011. But ridership was less than half the 50,000 annual passengers that promoters had hoped for, and payments to the city also lagged, reaching just $18,332 in the first 10 months.

In February 2012, Bill George said his company would make catch-up payments totaling $50,000 every year until the loan was paid off. On Monday, he said he is ahead of schedule and will continue to pay off the loan.

City Councilwoman Jan Marcason said Monday night that she had not heard of the trolley’s demise but she expected the operators would still make good on their promise to repay the loan.

“This was never a money-making deal. We designed this to help the bar and restaurant industry in one of the biggest slumps I’ve ever seen,” George said. “We wanted to encourage people to get out and see what Kansas City has to offer and get out of their comfort zone.”