Steve Paul

Neighborhoods collaborate on reimagining Troost Avenue and rebuilding the urban core

Area residents mingled around a playful rendering of Troost Avenue during a reception on Thursday.
Area residents mingled around a playful rendering of Troost Avenue during a reception on Thursday. The Kansas City Star

A powerful sense of community rippled through a midtown art studio Thursday night. It didn’t take long to realize that an urban rebirth was well under way — and on Troost Avenue of all places.

Yes, that longtime Kansas City symbol of racial division, blight and civic neglect is undergoing a transformation, and this gathering of neighborhood leaders and residents served as the onramp to a new era.

More than 100 people mingled in Cathryn Simmons and Lori Buntin’s Hoop Dog Studio, 3308 Troost Ave., at least in part to celebrate a grassroots collaboration in city planning and community building.

For many in the room, the energy was uplifting.

“We’re so excited to be in the area,” said Mike Stofiel, a young architect who with his wife has been rehabbing a 100-year-old home on Tracy Avenue in the Squier Park neighborhood nearby. “Things keep gradually improving.”

The momentum has followed a series of comprehensive planning studies and the overhaul of the city’s zoning ordinance in 2011. As part of the long-range Troost Corridor Redevelopment Plan, the Troost Neighborhood Coalition worked toward creating an “overlay district” to amend the zoning code and put in place smart approaches to land use and development. An end to anything-goes zoning along Troost was a pre-requisite for reversing decades of deterioration and for imagining the potential of progress.

With the overlay district established, the neighborhoods now are on a path to develop appropriate design guidelines — not too strict and not too loose. The coalition leaders invited attendees to participate in meetings and workshops in the coming months to devise the standards, aiming for completion in July.

“This is an opportunity to build a neighborhood street,” Simmons told the group, explaining that Troost should no longer be an ill-defined route to somewhere else.

From new housing for UMKC medical students to residential initiatives like the Bancroft School renovation to a commercial redevelopment at Cleaver Boulevard, the revival signs emerged more frequently in the Troost corridor north of Brush Creek. Attention is being paid, and enthusiasm among the coalition’s member neighborhoods certainly was palpable Thursday night.

Photos of the streetscape, vacant lots and current buildings covered two walls of the studio. Color swatches suggested how design themes can develop. A three-dimensional model of the street invited people to imagine how transformation can occur.

“Design guidelines can be detailed or expansive,” said Diane Binkley, a city planner who is helping the neighborhood groups through the City Hall process. “We don’t want to hinder development but we want to make sure that we get quality.”

It’s important to recognize that neighborhoods both east and west of Troost are bridging the longtime community divide, which led Buntin to imagine a multicolored fabric wall-hanging featuring a thick closed zipper.

“For too long we’ve waited for this to happen,” said Seft Hunter, president of the Historic Manheim Park Neighborhood. But instead of waiting for someone else to do it, he said, now a diverse array of individuals and groups are recognizing they can make positive change occur. And younger creative adults, like Stofiel, are realizing that the old history of Troost is not an impediment to establishing residential vibrancy east of the street.

“This is really what community planning should be about,” said Jeff Williams, the city’s planning director.

Troost still has plenty of eyesores, but the balance is tipping toward the belief that it presents many newfound opportunities. It’s encouraging that people are taking responsibility and rolling up their sleeves. And another good sign that the heart of Kansas City is on the mend.

Steve Paul, editorial page editor: 816-234-4762, paul@kcstar.com; on Twitter: @sbpaul.

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