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Tree farm will sprout on blighted urban KC land

Fresh Coast Capital co-founder April Mendez (center, facing camera) discussed with urban core resident Leaven Fountain (right) on Sept. 17, 2015, the possibility of turning the vacant lot in the background, at 18th Street and Cypress Avenue in Kansas City, into a tree-filled landscape. Behind Mendez and Fountain are Land Bank executive director Ted Anderson (right), who is teaming with Mendez to try to plant trees in vacant neglected lots, and Kimiko Gilmore, assistant city manager for Kansas City.
Fresh Coast Capital co-founder April Mendez (center, facing camera) discussed with urban core resident Leaven Fountain (right) on Sept. 17, 2015, the possibility of turning the vacant lot in the background, at 18th Street and Cypress Avenue in Kansas City, into a tree-filled landscape. Behind Mendez and Fountain are Land Bank executive director Ted Anderson (right), who is teaming with Mendez to try to plant trees in vacant neglected lots, and Kimiko Gilmore, assistant city manager for Kansas City. along@kcstar.com

Last fall, Kansas City’s Land Bank floated the idea of transforming weed-choked vacant inner city land into productive mini-forests of fast-growing trees.

It was an innovative approach that has been tried in several other cities, but it required interested private investors and a lot more ground work to actually happen.

Now those details are coming together.

Chicago-based Fresh Coast Capital, which was promoting the urban tree farm concept with the Land Bank, announced last week that it has secured an initial $1 million investment for urban land revitalization projects in Kansas City, St. Louis and four other cities.

Company co-founder April Mendez said Friday that this private investment ensures the Kansas City pilot project can begin this spring. She declined to say how much the project will cost, pending completion of contracts with the local companies that will actually do the work.

“The investment includes the full capacity to implement that project,” she said.

Mendez came to Kansas City last fall to scope out possible Land Bank parcels and said Friday that the location for the first plantings has been chosen. It will be in the 1900 block of Montgall Avenue, on two acres of land that used to have houses but are now vacant.

It’s been a dumping ground and is overgrown with brush and poor-quality trees that need to be removed. But it will make an excellent site, Mendez said, for the planting of about 1,000 hybrid poplar trees.

“We are also developing a landscape design specifically for that project that will make it look and feel parklike,” she said.

The Land Bank, which gets city funding, has been spending thousands of dollars to keep those two acres mowed and clean of trash. But with Fresh Coast Capital’s 15-year lease with the Land Bank, private dollars will pay to clean up these parcels, get them planted and then cover ongoing maintenance and upkeep.

“It’ll look nicer, and we won’t have to maintain it,” said Land Bank executive director Ted Anderson. “It’s going to be clean and orderly green space.”

The property will be landscaped so that it won’t just be straight rows of trees, and it will be available for the public to enjoy, Mendez said. Some of the trees will be culled after seven years, and when they are fully mature at 15 years they can be harvested for all sorts of wood products.

While they are growing, the trees also help clean the soil of contaminants and help improve the environment and a city’s natural resources.

The pilot site is in the Washington Wheatley neighborhood, south of 18th and Vine.

“It’s pretty forlorn over there,” Anderson said, adding that the neighborhood is enthusiastic about this beautification effort and residents there who currently mow and clean those parcels for the Land Bank are likely to be workers on this project.

Mendez said she expects the land clearing to begin in April and the trees will be planted in May.

If the pilot project works, the company hopes up to 100 scattered acres of vacant and neglected land in the city could be filled with trees.

Fresh Coast Capital has hybrid poplar tree farms underway in Flint, Mich., and Gary, Ind., and Mendez said she’s been struck by the level of support and enthusiasm from Kansas City.

She said it’s a reflection of “being a green and progressive city.”

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

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