No Kansas City politician’s fortunes are more closely tethered to the revitalization of the 18th & Vine District than that of City Councilman Jermaine Reed.
Over his two terms, Reed has been the public face of a redevelopment effort that has struggled with empty storefronts, the financially troubled American Jazz Museum and tepid interest from lovers of music and nightlife.
On Wednesday, Reed, one of eight candidates for mayor in 2019, emceed a celebration of the bright spots at 18th & Vine, underwritten by $7 million approved by the City Council two years ago. These include restoration of historic buildings like the Gem Theater, expansion of the Blue Room nightclub, new parking and streetscape improvements.
Officials said the money has also leveraged $44 million in private investment for projects such as the Urban Youth Baseball Academy and an arts center at the historic Crispus Attucks School.
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“Eighteenth & Vine is not just about economic development. It’s about creating a connected and vibrant district,” Reed told a group of city officials and supporters gathered Wednesday at the Jay McShann Pavilion behind the jazz museum.
Reed, who represents the Third District that is home to 18th & Vine, said before the event that it was not about giving a boost to his campaign, but an annual update on the effort.
“Hell, no,” he said. “I know how to campaign. This is not a campaign. This is very consistent with what we’ve done.”
But Reed may have trouble selling the City Council on the $10 million second phase of the project.
Money earmarked for roads
Reed, on the recommendation of City Manager Troy Schulte, is proposing that the next phase be funded with a mix of revenue from the one-cent sales tax for capital improvements ($3 million from District 3 and $4 million in citywide funds) and the 1/8th-cent Central City Economic Development Sales Tax ($3 million).
But he faces competing claims for the money, from the Public Improvements Advisory Committee (PIAC) that reviews proposals for spending the one-cent sales tax, and the board that oversees selection of central city projects.
Even Reed’s Third District at-large colleague, Councilman Quinton Lucas, distanced himself from the proposal.
“I think the council is going to have a serious debate,” said Lucas, who also spoke at the ceremony. “We have a lot of funding asks.”
Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said the available capital improvement sales tax money was almost completely earmarked for street maintenance and repair.
“It’s not there,” said Shields. “Basically there’s about $5 million not tied up. That’s the $5 million we’re supposed to be repairing the streets with.”
Shields and Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner both said that the discussion needs to start with giving the council a better accounting of how the $7 million was spent.
Wagner added that Reed and other stakeholders needed to find some private funding.
Who’s minding the museum?
Then there is the jazz museum. Operated as a nonprofit in partnership with the city, it was envisioned as an anchor of the district but has been beset with financial and organizational problems.
Consultants said in a scathing report this spring that the museum was plagued by outmoded exhibits, lack of a clear mission and failure to build strong ties with the city’s philanthropic leadership. Poor financial management and low staff morale had left it in perilous condition.
The report, from Museum Management Consultants of San Francisco, recommended “a complete rebirth, starting with its leadership.” Executive director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner resigned soon after the report’s release.
The council passed a pair of resolutions last May giving the city more direct control over the museum. Part of the reset was a new museum board to be appointed by Mayor Sly James.
But James has yet to name any board members and the museum is still operating with an interim executive director. James was traveling Wednesday and his office did not respond to a question about the appointments.
If funded, part of the $10 million would go toward completing renovation of the Buck O’Neil Education Center, the former YMCA building that is the birthplace of the Negro Leagues in 1920; improvements to the intersection of 18th and Paseo at the entry to the district; and unspecified improvements to the Jazz Museum.
Reed said there would be ample opportunity for the City Council, PIAC and other stakeholders to weigh in.
“There are a number of conversations that certainly need to take place,” he said.