Government & Politics

KC Council approves east side revitalization plan. Does it give ‘false hope?’

A drive down The Paseo, which some want to rename for Martin Luther King Jr.

Residents and workers along The Paseo share their thoughts on whether the historic boulevard should change its name to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Residents and workers along The Paseo share their thoughts on whether the historic boulevard should change its name to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

A year-long discussion of a mayoral candidate’s proposal to revitalize some of Kansas City’s most distressed neighborhoods culminated Thursday with a City Council vote in favor of the sweeping plan.

Councilman Scott Taylor, one of several council members running for mayor, chairs the council’s Planning, Zoning & Economic Development Committee. He unveiled his “Revive the East Side” plan last year as the Kansas City mayor’s race got underway.

The ordinance would provide new funds and incentives for investment across huge swaths of the city east of Troost Avenue, the city’s historic racial dividing line.

“The basis of this was that we have a lot of momentum in the city, a lot of momentum in all parts of the city,” Taylor said, noting growth in downtown and areas north of the Missouri River.

Taylor’s ordinance directs City Manager Troy Schulte to come up with $10 million for home improvement and repair funds and another $3 million to repair or demolish buildings deemed dangerous. Under the ordinance, Schulte will also have to work with Jackson County to develop a plan to combat gentrification and help incorporate a nonprofit community development corporation to coordinate efforts.

The ordinance creates a tax credit to encourage businesses to hire workers inside the investment zone, especially unemployed veterans, ex-offenders and those on public assistance. The plan also calls for a plan to reduce the cost of investing in the area and makes other changes to policy to make it easier and more cost effective to invest on the east side.

Councilman Jermaine Reed, who is also running for mayor, voted against the proposal and said it creates “false hope” for residents on the city’s east side. Reed said while he appreciated Taylor’s efforts to engage residents there, he called the proposal a “campaign ploy.”

Taylor’s proposal has no “oopmh,” Reed said. It doesn’t have the resources behind it.

“I know that many of my friends and neighbors who live in the Third District and Fifth District are tired of false promises from city hall, and they want realistic things to take place and not another Sears catalog of here’s what we think is good for you but there’s nothing there.”

Council members Teresa Loar, Quinton Lucas, Katheryn Shields, Jolie Justus, Lee Barnes Jr., Alissia Canady, Scott Taylor, Kevin McManus and Mayor Sly James voted in favor of the ordinance. Members Heather Hall, Dan Fowler and Jermaine Reed voted against. Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner was absent.

Council members removed a provision in the ordinance that would have renamed The Paseo to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but they considered a separate ordinance that would rename the street for the civil rights leader. They did not vote on that proposal.

For months, city and civic leaders have been discussing a way to honor King, but the council has yet to act. A working group commissioned by Mayor Sly James suggested renaming Kansas City International Airport, 63rd Street or The Paseo.

Kansas City is among the largest cities in the U.S. without a street or road named for King.

The proposal that council members considered Thursday would rename the street Martin Luther King Jr. on the Paseo instead of entirely renaming the street for King. Councilman Quinton Lucas, another mayoral candidate, said it was a compromise.

Reed pushed for a street named only for King. He thanked religious leaders for their input in the process.

“But I stand firm,” Reed said. “We need a street that’s fully, fully named after Dr. King and not a partial naming of Dr. King, and I would hope that we as a council and as a community would embrace ensuring that the citizens who live along The Paseo have an actual voice.”

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King helped found, collected signatures this spring in the hope of putting the renaming on the November ballot after the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Board rejected a proposal to rename The Paseo. They did not meet the deadline for collecting signatures.

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