Editorial: At long last, Kansas City embraces its neglected riverfront

Fireworks exploded over the Christopher S. Bond Bridge as part of the KC Riverfest celebration at Richard L. Berkley Riverfront Park.
Fireworks exploded over the Christopher S. Bond Bridge as part of the KC Riverfest celebration at Richard L. Berkley Riverfront Park. deulitt@kcstar.com

One of the Kansas City area’s most sprawling and significant assets is on the verge of coming into its own.

Finally, our long neglected riverfront is blossoming, promising to become a bustling destination for condo dwellers, shoppers and people who simply want to enjoy the walking paths and other outdoor amenities that now sit along the Missouri River.

To say the recent apartment groundbreaking and other announcements have been a long time coming is an understatement.

Kansas City, established in 1838, exists because of the Missouri River. Yet somehow, development along its banks has been painfully slow, a tangle of starts and stops and long-stalled plans.

A good portion of the problem has been a lack of vision. For some time, the inability of the city to control mob influence that once ruled in the River Market was to blame. And for too long, Kansas City was stubbornly reluctant to link its present with an image reminiscent of the fur traders and explorers of the past.

No more. Kansas City should applaud the progress.

Substantial development is occurring along Berkley Riverfront Park. The most notable step forward is the construction of 410 luxury apartments that will face the park. The apartments are a piece of a larger $72 million development, which will include 12,000 square feet of retail space, being ushered in by the port authority of Kansas City, called Port KC.

Eventually, as many as 1,500 apartments could fill that space. And the arrival of those new residents should in turn spur the opening of more retail shops and perhaps office developments.

Renderings of such possibilities appear entirely feasible.

Go to Berkleyriverfrontparkkc.com to view an animated bird’s-eye view of the envisioned future development. It’s an ambitious vision that includes manicured grounds, athletic amenities, apartments and office space, all neatly arranged within a 45-acre master plan.

There is a synergy evident in the heart of Kansas City. It began with the resurgence of downtown, flowed into the River Market area and now could move eastward to the riverfront.

The streetcar line is perhaps the most visible addition that has sparked interest and has generated pedestrian traffic in the River Market area. The Kansas City Streetcar Authority has given its blessing, endorsing the idea of expanding the line north to connect to Berkley Riverfront Park.

As more people have moved into the many lofts and condos in the River Market, parking has become an issue — evidence of the area’s growing popularity. The city recently announced a pilot project to bring metered parking. This will begin later this month, with meters installed from Grand Boulevard to Fifth Street and from Main Street to Third Street.

The River Market was alive with traffic during the recent Fourth of July festivities held on the riverfront, an event that draws people from all portions of the city. Some revelers no doubt were surprised by how vibrant the River Market was compared to their last visit.

The challenge now for city leaders will be to keep the momentum going. At long last, Kansas City could overcome decades of inertia and actually embrace our historic riverfront.