Supporters of a downtown attraction and of the 18th and Vine District are seeking public funds from the Kansas City Council. But elected officials must insist on getting better plans than exist right now for using this money.
▪ Properly so, Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner says he’s not yet prepared to relieve the College Basketball Experience of its obligations to taxpayers.
Wagner, who leads the council’s finance committee, wants to know a lot more about why leaders of the downtown facility hope to renege on their promise to repay the public $600,000 of a $1.1 million city loan.
Good question. The College Basketball Experience is a highly visible asset tucked next to the successful Sprint Center and across the street from the Power & Light District. Yet the facility’s attendance figures are not as healthy as they should be, City Manager Troy Schulte says, especially given its prime location.
Schulte shares Wagner’s concerns that the College Basketball Experience’s entire business model — such as marketing and the types and number of events it holds — requires more scrutiny. Wagner says he’s asked officials to tell his panel how they would try to improve the facility if the city forgave the loan.
No doubt some kind of rosy forecast will result from that request. But too often, the promises made to get city funds are not realistic. Exhibit A: The College Basketball Experience’s initial request for the city loan a decade ago.
Wagner and other elected officials need to be strong advocates for taxpayers. The College Basketball Experience has other sources of revenue it could tap into, especially in the private sector, while also doing a better job of attracting people inside its doors.
▪ This week, another council committee is set to review a request that Schulte develop a plan to finance $7 million of improvements at 18th and Vine.
We have long backed reasonable efforts to bring more people to this historical section of the East Side, which features the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum. Council advocates, including Jermaine Reed and Quinton Lucas, rightly note that the city has a long-term interest in upgrading the district.
However, the $7 million wish list needs to be more fully vetted before a dime is spent to pursue it. The resolution for 18th and Vine contains a list of nine projects. Among the requests are $1.5 million for a plaza and fountain near the district’s western entrance; $2 million for a headquarters and performing arts space for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which has had a longtime presence in Kansas City; and $750,000 for new exhibits at the jazz museum.
Are these the proper priorities? And would any city contribution leverage millions more for the district’s assets?
That’s happening right now with the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy, which in its first phase is expected to feature an indoor training facility and new baseball diamonds at nearby Parade Park. Schulte says the city’s scheduled $2 million contribution ultimately could make a $14 million project possible.
Speaking of the new $7 million request, Schulte says, “We have a lot of work to do on this one.”