Mayor Sly James: In Search of the Silver Bullet

Around the country, local leaders are searching for the key to economic development.

I have attended several conferences this summer where I have met other local leaders and policymakers, and they are all looking for the same thing: A silver bullet that will bring economic development far and wide in their communities. I’d love to find one myself. That will be hard to find, but it’s our duty to look for proven, research-based economic development tactics.

We do know of one proven way to drive development in cities and it’s called public transit. The Urban Land Institute is a nonprofit organization focusing on how we can wisely use land in cities to cultivate growth and prosperity. In their publication Infrastructure 2014: Shaping the Competitive City, researchers surveyed “high-level public officials and private real estate leaders” on several questions related to infrastructure and economic development.

Here are a few key findings:

  • “Eighty-eight percent of survey respondents rated infrastructure quality as a top or very important consideration when determining where real estate investments are made.”
  • “The survey affirms the importance of infrastructure in metropolitan economic development strategies.”
  • “Upgrades to public transit systems — including bus and fixed-rail systems — merged from the survey as a strong priority for future investment.”
  • “Seventy-eight percent of survey respondents saw improved transit services as a top or high priority.”

We have certainly seen plenty of local evidence of these findings.  We know for sure that since December of 2012, close to $900 million in development, including 2,753 housing units, has, or is, occurring in the starterline Transportation Development District (TDD).

The impact of the Downtown streetcar starter line is a glimpse of what could spread to other parts of the city when expansion routes are approved.  Of the $890 million of development projects on that map, 13 developers have cited the streetcar as a key reason they chose to develop in the area.

Furthermore, studies affirm that rail projects, like streetcar, positively impact property values. That is not a soundbyte and it’s not opinion — it’s fact based on research that found rail transit enhances property values by increasing connectivity and the propensity for property around rail transit investments to be developed.

It’s clear that rail transit is not a pie-in-the-sky strategy.  All of this considered, we may have the closest thing there is to a silver bullet.

The robust development around the Downtown starterline is incentive to spread economic prosperity to other areas of the City long in need of economic development.  By extending the streetcar east on Independence Avenue and Linwood Boulevard, we can provide infrastructure improvements, economic development prospects, better connectivity and jobs.

On July 10th of this year, we, as a Council adopted  Resolution 140519 , which, in short, directed the City Manager to engage in a comprehensive process over the next 60 days to identify, prioritize and implement effective development strategies in the expanded streetcar TDD area.

Specifically, we directed the Manager to develop a plan that:

  • promotes transit- oriented development;

  • revitalizes neighborhoods with an emphasis on addressing properties that are eyesores for neighborhoods; and,

  • sustains and creates affordable housing for those currently in the area.

I am confident this plan will promote investment in areas that have needed it for years, while ensuring current residents will be able to afford to stay in those neighborhoods when their trajectories change course. I have personally committed to working to ensure that happens.

It is my hope, despite a natural fear of change, that we recognize that we must compete on an international scale for talent, revenue, and both economic and social prosperity.

It is my hope that if you will vote Yes on Question A if you live in the proposed Transportation Development District and Vote Yes on Amendment 7 to create better transportation and more jobs in Kansas City.

From the desk of Mayor James, July 28, 2014

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