To become a true success story, Kansas City’s two-mile streetcar line must attract a healthy dose of economic redevelopment.
Moving a few thousand people daily around downtown isn’t a sufficient reason to sink more than $100 million of public funds into a starter system.
Yet while good reasons already exist to think the streetcar is going to be a boon to development, it admittedly sure hasn’t happened yet at the forlorn northeast corner of 20th and Main streets.
The grassy lot is where the Hereford House restaurant stood before an arson fire destroyed it in 2008. Next door sits a blighted structure awaiting better days.
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That’s just one example of unfilled potential along the streetcar line.
Earlier this week, I walked a five-block stretch of Main — from 20th Street north to Truman Road — to get a closer look at current and planned private-sector redevelopment. Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, came along.
My conclusion: There’s much positive work underway but there also are plenty more opportunities even in this relatively small area for additional activity to occur.
Streetcar critics make the reasonable point that Mayor Sly James and other boosters attribute too much of current redevelopment in the larger downtown area to the streetcar. Then again, some of the ongoing projects are obviously tied directly to the potential of the system to attract employers and residents.
One of the highlights is a five-story, mixed-used building at 1914 Main. It’s among the flurry of new construction in the Crossroads Arts District, which has seen plenty of renovation of older structures.
Go north a block, and developers of the Corrigan Building (which fronts Walnut Street) also plan to erect a new structure on what’s now a surface parking lot on the northeast corner of 19th and Main. A streetcar stop is being built directly in front of that space on Main. It will serve people who will walk to restaurants nearby and in the Freight House District or to the planned Hilton extended stay hotel at 20th and Main.
The Lead Bank Building redo at 18th and Main promises to help energize a long-forlorn corner. The renovated Globe Building at 1712 Main St. is a good looking, occupied structure. And a few drinking establishments are coming to older buildings nearby.
Two new hotels are going up at 16th and Baltimore Avenue, but construction will extend a block east to Main Street, where a structured parking lot plans to offer ground-level retail.
On the less-positive side, there’s still plenty of surface parking along this stretch of Main — land that could be used for better purposes. Several abandoned buildings also are obvious candidates for redevelopment or demolition.
It’s mostly good to see city officials being proactive at this time.
The City Council continues to dole out generous public incentives to some — but not all — projects within the downtown transportation district. Modern water and sewer lines have replaced decades-old infrastructure near the streetcar line. New sidewalks will be poured along some stretches of Main, and the city says it will more quickly process permits for construction in the streetcar district.
The city also has reduced some requirements for how much parking has to be provided for new offices and housing units. That should lead to parking lots being gobbled up by new projects, along with the addition of structured parking and retail on ground floors.
Gerend makes the good point that Kansas City needs plans to help build a more vibrant downtown over the next decade, two decades and even 50 years.
This renaissance needs to be permanent, not fleeting. Eventually, good reasons will exist to extend the streetcar line to the Country Club Plaza, connecting more neighborhoods to the heart of the city.