Yael T. Abouhalkah

Questionable plan emerges to charge people to walk on Westport’s streets

The Westport entertainment district features a lot of places to get an alcoholic drink, including the Westport Ale House, but it might be a little more costly to do that in the future.
The Westport entertainment district features a lot of places to get an alcoholic drink, including the Westport Ale House, but it might be a little more costly to do that in the future. The Kansas City Star

Here’s a word of advice to Westport and Kansas City officials as they ponder whether to charge people who want to walk on streets at certain times in the popular entertainment district.

Not so fast.

Social media on Thursday was abuzz with the possibility that Westport officials wanted to institute this policy as soon as this weekend, which The Star and The Pitch wrote about.

“We have to do something to generate additional revenue to pay for more security,” Kim Kimbrough, director of the Westport Regional Business League, told The Pitch, pointing out that the district has its own security plus off-duty police officers.

But on Wednesday, when I questioned on Twitter whether taxpayers would “get a cut of the new funds” from a charge to use public streets, City Manager Troy Schulte responded: “Discussions only preliminary, but portion of fee could be used to offset significant @kcpolice costs every weekend.”

By Thursday, Schulte offered me an even more cautious response.

“City doesn’t have a position yet,” Schulte said by email. “This issue will take some time to evaluate. Significant legal and policy review needs to be made by city and KCPD legal.”

Schulte indicated the comments by Westport officials in favor of the new charge should not be taken as a done deal, because it hasn’t been approved or even fully evaluated yet at City Hall.

UPDATED: Shortly before 3 p.m. Thursday, Kellys Westport Inn tweeted this message: “Starting this weekend after 11pm patrons will be charged $5 to get into Westport and will be given a token that is redeemable for drinks!”

I quickly asked Schulte about that.

His response: “No change. They are jumping the gun.”

On Thursday, I noted on Twitter that charging the public to use city streets could be extended to other events, such as the Country Club Plaza Art Fair, which also draws significant crowds.

I called that a “slippery slope,” which Schulte in his email agreed might occur.

The city’s Regulated Industries agency needs to take its time in evaluating the pros and cons of this issue before reaching any recommendation to give other city officials.

Here’s one other key issue to keep in mind.

Charging fees to use public areas also can be seen as a way to discriminate against minorities, and Westport — and City Hall — don’t want to be in a position of doing that.

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.

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