Kansas City Mayor Sly James on Sunday fleshed out plans for a $14.5 million Urban Youth Baseball Academy in Parade Park, near the 18th and Vine Jazz District and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
“It’s a vehicle that Major League Baseball uses to improve the lives of youth in urban America and build stronger neighborhoods along the way,” James told an audience at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church.
“It’s about more than baseball,” he continued. “It’s expected to provide both athletic and educational opportunities.”
James said Major League Baseball is contributing $3 million, and the Major League Baseball Players Association is contributing $1 million. The city of Kansas City and the state of Missouri will each pitch in $2 million, James said, adding that about half of the remaining amount has been raised.
The project will create two major league-sized ballfields, a little league field and a softball field as well as an indoor facility for year-round use. The program is expected to serve 800-1,000 youths a year at no charge to them. It is intended to help build character in young people.
“They’re less likely to become involved in dangerous or illegal activities,” James said.
The proximity to the jazz district should also help spur more activity there, although James expressed caution about a recent push to infuse $18 million more in city money into the district.
The plan was co-sponsored by 3rd District Councilman Jermaine Reed and 3rd District at-large Councilman Quinton Lucas. The City Council earlier this month unanimously approved a measure directing the city manager to find a way to pay for up to $18 million for improvements to the district. It does not commit the city to actually spending any money.
The plan calls for a new plaza and fountain at the western entrance to the district, completion of several floors of the Buck O’Neil Center and a new performing arts space for the Friends of Alvin Ailey, among other things.
But James, in his annual address at the All Souls church, said the city has invested about $100 million in the jazz district over the years with little to show for it.
“When you have limited funds you have to do things that are catalytic,” the mayor said. “If we make this investment, will it spark other investments?”
James said the district can be made more lively but that won’t happen without a clear plan.
“Getting money in your hands is not a plan,” he said.
James’ address was about building Kansas City for the future, and he focused on programs for young people: Turn the Page KC aims at improving reading proficiency in the third grade; Teens in Transition gives at-risk teenagers minimum-wage summer jobs; Hire KC Youth helps prepare them for the job market; and Mayor’s Nights offer summer recreational options for about 10,000 young people.