Mayor’s Ideas Fair inspires civic creativity

Kansas City Mayor Sly James
Kansas City Mayor Sly James

E.B. Wiltz had what he thought was a brilliant idea, so he got together with the Louisiana Swamp Man to cook it up.

Wiltz, whose career roots are in construction, decided he would teach young urban men how to build hotdog carts, and friend Jeff Guillory Jr., more commonly known in cooking circles as Swamp Man, would teach the guys how to make Louisiana sausage.

They call their project Brother from Another, and they debuted it Saturday morning at Kansas City Mayor Sly James’ first Ideas Fair at the Central Public Library downtown.

Wiltz and Guillory joined about 40 other residents who brought their visions to the four-hour fair, presented in conjunction with the Mayor’s Challenge Cabinet and the city’s chief innovation officer.

The ideas tackled public health, sustainability, new uses of media and technology, neighborhood organizing, community art projects and crime prevention.

James later talked with some who produced new ideas and commended them for their innovation, saying that the importance of an event like the fair is highlighting what citizens are doing to make Kansas City its best.

“Some of the ideas have been launched with zero funds and have zero budget, and others have been able to secure some funding,” said Ashley Hand, a spokeswoman from the mayor’s office.

“We have brought together some amazing projects and hope to inspire other residents to turn their own ideas into projects that would benefit the city,” Hand said. “What we hope is that this fair is building great awareness about some of what is happening in the city. We hope it will help to build relationships that will grow beyond this room.”

Zay Thompson’s booth was next to Nick Ward-Bopp’s booth. The two men started talking and found they both hope to promote the arts and craftsmanship in the urban core.

Ward-Bopp wants to open a place at 31st and Cherry streets where he would have wood and metal workshops. Residents would bring their materials, and Ward-Bopp’s Makers Village would provide the expensive tools and equipment and guidance needed for residents to build their designs. First he has to renovate the building. He expects to open in late 2014.

Thompson and fiancee Stacy Lindgren are leasing a historic building at the southwest corner of Armour Boulevard and Troost Avenue. With financial support from the owner, they intend to rehab it and turn it into housing, commercial and art space.

Plans for the KC Arts Ecovillage project call for the second floor to have about seven apartments; the first floor would have space for small businesses and nonprofits, maybe a cafe and a gallery. On the back lawn, Thompson would like to see a community garden growing around sculptures to “create something that is not only going to be food for the people living in the building but also for the folks living in the neighborhood,” he said.

“We know there is a lot of artistic and sustainability energy being focused on Troost Avenue and we want to collaborate with that,” Thompson said.

Lindgren said she and Thompson were really excited about the opportunity the fair presented to meet other groups and to collaborate.

“We want to be part of the movement in Kansas City where new ideas are celebrated,” she said. “I think Kansas City is ripe for new artistic, creative, innovative and entrepreneurial-type ideas.”

That’s the spirit Wiltz and Guillory are counting on to make Brother from Another take off.

For now Wiltz is working with five young men building carts in his south Kansas City garage.

At the fair he connected with people interested in joining him to teach the young men some business operation skills.

If the young men stick with it, bring their friends and so on, they could learn a self-sustaining business, he said.

“If we link some of the things we are doing here together, there is no reason why we can’t solve some of the problems we have in this city,” Wiltz said. “I want to plant the seed for some young people (to know) that you can do it for yourself and help your community. You know it is not what we build that’s most important, it’s who we build.”