Steve Paul

Steve Paul: Three projects on the horizon can make Kansas City better

A fox greets visitors to the Rabbit Hole’s workshop space on Southwest Boulevard.
A fox greets visitors to the Rabbit Hole’s workshop space on Southwest Boulevard. paul@kcstar.com

Kansas City has the potential to grow bigger under the right economic circumstances. But that doesn’t guarantee the city gets better. A few developments on the near horizon have the elements, in different ways, to effectively expand the city’s self-image and its quality of life. Here are three of them.

A baseball academy

This is the season when we’ve come to expect that all things turn to baseball. The recent announcement of a new baseball academy in the 18th and Vine Historic District offered some timely excitement as well as great promise for an underserved community.

Investments by the Kansas City Royals, Major League Baseball and its players association — plus funding from the city and state — are helping to launch the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy. Ball fields and training facilities will be built and programs will help make the sport accessible to young people, especially in the city, who don’t otherwise have connections to equipment, coaching and places to play.

This very worthy idea will help create a future fan base and also develop talent that could eventually lead young athletes to the bigs.

Royals General Manager Dayton Moore has committed significant energy and dollars to making this happen. Bravo for that, too.

KCI Airport

It remains to be seen whether other civic building projects — a downtown streetcar, a convention hotel — can have generational consequences for the life of the city. But a new airport could help.

An airport should be a vibrant gateway for newcomers and a comfortable conduit for local travelers that maximizes convenience and minimizes the travel hassles that are all too present today.

There’s no doubt something will happen as the city, airlines and consultants devise a plan to improve if not totally replace Kansas City International.

I personally wish a sensible plan could adapt and reuse at least one of the original horseshoe terminals as a way to reflect the forward thinking project Kansas City architects and engineers hatched nearly a half century ago. Like others, I’m a little skeptical of the recent suggestion that a wholly new terminal would cost less than one that updates pieces of the old KCI.

Don’t be surprised if we wind up with an airport that looks and feels like Love Field in Dallas, where Southwest Airlines, as here, dominates. It works well, though it feels rather generic. That’s too bad, but perhaps we can land an airport that reflects and promotes the innovative and welcoming values of Kansas City.

The Rabbit Hole

Simmering below the surface of public attention is a serious plan to create a wholly new attraction for the city. Called the Rabbit Hole, the project involves creating an interactive, immersive place that celebrates children’s books and literature. Imagine an ever-changing wonderland of installations depicting scenes from classic and contemporary children’s books. Imagine how such a creative experience can fire the imagination of young and old.

The concept is being developed by Pete Cowdin and Debbie Pettid, longtime proprietors of the Reading Reptile, the noted children’s bookstore in Brookside. The Rabbit Hole would be a non-profit organization. Its principals have quietly gathered a board, an advisory council of superstar authors and the enthusiastic support of important publishers, who recognize that the effort — called the world’s first “Explorastorium” — could become a national attraction. (Disclosure: The booksellers are friends, and I’ve offered guidance and my own enthusiasm for the project.)

Properties are being scouted and fundraising has begun; a future capital campaign might seek to raise $15 million. The Rabbit Hole has a workshop space on Southwest Boulevard, where Pettid and crew are developing scale models of projected installations.

The project’s vision includes an important connection to early childhood education. That could help make it a very tangible contributor to the wider civic effort that’s focused on the lasting value of reading and learning among the very young.

Steve Paul: paul@kcstar.com, @sbpaul

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