In the last week, Mayor Sly James has promoted needed efforts to revive Kansas City’s East Side and boost economic development there.
The attention is welcome. Positive and long-lasting results would be even better.
The city’s second black mayor faces plenty of pressure from minority residents to take actions that can help turn around neighborhoods that have been devastated by violent crime, lack of private investment, and tremendous blight caused by vacant houses and lots.
During and after his re-election in 2015, James said he would focus on East Side priorities in his second term. He’s done it in three ways recently.
The city released three maps of East Side redevelopment, essentially to promote the fact that good things are happening in that part of the city despite what skeptics constantly say.
The lists contain some significant projects, privately and publicly financed. James and City Hall can’t and don’t take credit for all of them.
Hundreds of new or proposed housing units are included — repurposing of the old Faxon and Bancroft schools, plus expansion in the 18th and Vine area and on Beacon Hill near the downtown University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. Some apartment rehab projects are noteworthy because they could attract more people to live in the urban core.
The lists also includes other school renovations, upgrades of community centers and improvements to existing shopping centers.
On a smaller scale, one list shows dozens upon dozens of capital improvements. They include better facilities at East Side parks, projects to reduce flooding and new curbs and sidewalks in many neighborhoods. These are the kinds of everyday basic services that residents are entitled to receive from City Hall.
The mayor unveiled a much-needed plan to spend $10 million for tearing down more than 850 dangerous buildings, most of them east of Troost Avenue.
After years of kicking this problem around, the city needs to finally demolish this blight and, separately, beef up the amount it spends on housing rehabilitation funds to help repair thousands of other vacant structures.
The city also is rightly promoting a just-announced program that allows people to buy a dangerous building for $1 with the promise to renovate it. This could prove to be an effective catalyst for neighborhood revitalization.
Shared Success Fund
On Wednesday, James proposed a “Shared Success Fund” that could direct a small amount of city funds into selected East Side redevelopment projects.
One goal is to step in when banks won’t. Last week, James said at a public event he was very disappointed in some local banks that were not aggressively making loans in poorer parts of town.
The new fund so far is just an idea. The City Council needs to determine whether this is a good way to use public funds or whether there are better ways to promote economic development.
A final reminder: James and elected officials can’t do it all. People who live and do business in East Side neighborhoods must work with the city to find solid ways to improve the quality of life.