Development professional to lead Port KC

Jon Stephens

The Board of Commissioners of Port KC announced on Tuesday that it has selected long-time economic development and civic executive Jon Stephens as President & CEO.

With more than two decades of leadership experience spanning development, tourism and civic affairs Stephens comes to this new role from the Unified Government of Wyandotte County & KCK, where he served most recently as Director of Economic Development. Stephens begins his new role at Port KC on Monday, Oct. 8.

Dana Gibson, commission chair, and CiCi Rojas, commissioner, led the eight-month search process with support from the full commission and recruitment firm Fenaroli & Associates.

“A comprehensive nationwide search for the next dynamic leader of Port KC lead us to our own backyard and Jon,” Gibson said. “We were drawn to Jon because of his track record in economic development, his creative vision and his deep knowledge of Kansas City. Port KC is poised to accomplish great things for our city with our new dynamic leadership. ”

A native Kansas Citian, Stephens grew up in the Hickman Mills area and attended the University of Missouri. Beginning his career in advertising and marketing, he turned those skills to executive and community leadership, first as President of the Kansas City Power & Light District, then as President & CEO of Visit KC and several other interim executive and consulting roles through his firm, Rockhill Strategic.

“Playing a key role in the continued transformation of Kansas City is simply a dream come true,” he said. “As a city we have ignored the river for too long. It is one of our most vital assets. We must continue a thoughtful and lasting return of people, business, entertainment and economic vitality to the riverfront.”

Key to his interest in the position was the capabilities of Port KC and continuing the greater community momentum, Stephens said.

“Kansas City has made significant advances in the last decade. Downtown revitalization, renewed neighborhood investment, the new KCI terminal, the Streetcar and embracing new smart tech,” he said. “Port KC, with its extensive capabilities in development, logistics and planning has possibly the greatest opportunity of any organization in Kansas City to not simply support these generational projects, but to play a lead role in guiding the destiny of our city into the next century for the benefit of all.”

In his community roles, Stephens has also served on the executive planning teams for major bi-state initiatives such as the KC2016 bid for the Republican National Convention, the bid for the Amazon HQ2 project and the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

City Manager Troy Schulte said he was impressed with Stephens’ knowledge of the issues and his commitment to serving as a collaborative community leader.

“Port KC’s work is vital to the economic growth of our city and region,” Schulte said. “With Jon in that chair, I am confident that we have thoughtful visionary and collaborative leadership.”

Stephens is active in many local and industry organizations, including the Visit KC Board, Arts KC Board of Directors, ICSC, the American Cancer Society and many more. He is a frequent commentator on civic issues and appears regularly KCPT’s issues talk show Ruckus.

KC Streetcar marks its 5 millionth ride in 28 months

The KC Streetcar recorded its 5 millionth ride last weekend in its first 28 months of services to Downtown KC.

The KC Streetcar logged its 5 millionth ride last weekend, as Downtown Kansas City was flying high with activities and events. This milestone was reached in less than 2 ½ years of service, since the streetcar became operational in May 2016.

In its 28 months of operations, the KC Streetcar has traveled 305,128 miles with a daily ridership average of 5,806. Each streetcar averaged 76,282 miles and 34,673 trips per vehicle. The summer months tend to be the busiest for streetcar ridership, with July 2018 being the highest ridership month to date with 262,593 total rides, that’s an increase in 31,000 rides from the previous July, according to Donna Mandelbaum, communications director for the KC Streetcar Authority (KCSA).

The highest ridership day to date was July 6, 2018, with 19,181 total rides.

Ridership is important but so is safety and reliability. The KC Streetcar has an average on-time performance of nearly 95 percent and an employee safety record of 863 total days injury free. The KCSA monitors and tracks daily ridership on board the KC Streetcar.

Streetcar ridership, otherwise known as “Unlinked Passenger Trips”, is the national standard used by the Federal Transit Administration for calculating usage on public transportation systems across the county.

KC Streetcar ridership is calculated by Automated Passenger Counters located over each door of each streetcar vehicle. Passengers are counted each time they board vehicles no matter how many vehicles they use to travel from their origin to their destination.

More information about KC Streetcar ridership can be found http://kcstreetcar.org/ridership.

As response to the demand in ridership, the KC Streetcar Authority ordered two more streetcar vehicles for the Downtown route. Those vehicles should arrive in 2019. Later this year, streetcar shelters will be installed at the North Loop stops at 7th and Main Street as a direct response to ridership in that area.

Additionally, the KC Streetcar Authority, along with the City of Kansas City, the KC Area Transportation Authority and Port KC, are planning for future streetcar extensions north towards Berkley Riverfront, as well as the Main Street Extension to UMKC.

 

NASA leader to deliver keynote at LaunchKC Day

Kira Blackwell, NASA.

An executive from the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) will “launch” the annual LaunchKC Pitch Day with an opening keynote address on Friday, Oct. 12 at Union Station.

Kira Blackwell, Program Executive, Office of the Chief Technologist, NASA will speak to the audience at 9 a.m. Friday, Oct. 12, immediately before the start of the LaunchKC Pitch Day in the Extreme Screen Theatre at Union Station.

Blackwell will share insights into NASA iTech, a year-long effort to find innovative ideas that address challenges and fill gaps in five critical areas identified by NASA as having a potential impact on future exploration, including big data and data mining; artificial intelligence and autonomous robotic capabilities; revolutionary concepts for communications; medical breakthrough; and x-factor innovations.

The NASA-inspired keynote falls on the fifth and final day of the Techweek Kansas City conference. Friday is primarily focused on LaunchKC, the fourth annual grants competition for tech startups that has been a part of the Techweek KC experience, since its first local conference in 2015.

“We are delighted to welcome Kira Blackwell and NASA to ‘launch’ the Pitch Day events,” said Drew Solomon, senior vice president of business and job development for the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Missouri, and competition chair for LaunchKC.

The LaunchKC Pitch Day marks the final day of the annual grants competition. Beginning at 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 12 the 20 LaunchKC finalists will make their  business plan presentations to a panel of LaunchKC judges AND the Techweek Kansas City audience. Solomon said Blackwell has agreed to join the panel of judges.

“NASA iTech and LaunchKC are cut from the same innovative cloth – both are showcases for entrepreneurs who are looking to change the trajectory of the world through their innovative thinking and business plans,” Solomon said.

NASA iTech is a program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and works in collaboration with The National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) in support of the Agency’s Mission. This collaborative effort identifies and fosters innovative solutions that aim to solve challenges on Earth and also have the potential to solve some of NASA’s challenges agency-wide.

LaunchKC is a national grants competition designed to attract tech entrepreneurs to compete for non-dilutive grants and the opportunity to build their new and emerging tech businesses in Kansas City, Missouri.

“LaunchKC has attracted more than 2,100 applications from throughout the nation and the world during our four years of competitions,” said Mike Hurd, marketing officer for LaunchKC and the Downtown Council. “When we award the next round of grants on Oct. 12, we will reach the $2 million mark in awards.”

LaunchKC announced its list of 20 finalists on Tuesday of this week. Judges worked for six weeks to narrow the field from 586 applicants to the final 20, who will compete on the big stage at Union Station on Oct. 12.

The finalists for the LaunchKC grants competition include:

  •  AgVoice – Atlanta, Ga. – Ag Tech
  • Bluepoint2 – Leawood, Kan. – Health Tech
  • Boddle Learning – Kansas City, Mo. – Ed Tech
  • Bungii – Overland Park, Kan. – Mobile Technology
  • Case Helper – Kansas City, Mo. – Cloud Services
  • Digs – Chicago, Ill. – Fin Tech
  • Erkios Systems – Kansas City, Mo. – Network Security
  • Just Play Sports Solutions – Lawrence, Kan. – Cloud Services
  • Listing, LLC – Kansas City, Mo. – Real Estate Tech
  • MindSport – Overland Park, Kan. – Health Tech
  • Motega Health – Lawrence, Kan. – Health Tech
  • OpenCities – Kansas City, Mo. – Cloud Services
  • PlaBook – Kansas City, Mo. – Ed Tech
  • Project Ray – Yokneam, Israel – Mobile Technology
  • Realquantum – Overland Park, Kan. – Fin Tech
  • Ripe.io – San Francisco, Calif. – Ag Tech
  • SaRA Health – Kansas City, Mo. – Health Tech
  • SmartBridge – Bethesda, Md. – Health Tech
  • Strayos – St. Louis, Mo. – Data Analytics
  • Venture360 – Lee’s Summit, Mo. – Fin Tech

The LaunchKC / Techweek Kansas City schedule on Friday, Oct. 12 in the Extreme Screen Theatre at Union Station will look like this:

  • 9 a.m. Keynote address by Kira Blackwell, NASA
  • 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. LaunchKC Pitch Day of all 20 competition finalists
  • 12:30-2:30 p.m. Judges meet in private to score presentations and decide who will receive grant money
  • 3:00 p.m. LaunchKC to announce winners of 2018 grant competition

Tickets to the LaunchKC Pitch Day – including Blackwell’s keynote address – are part of the Techweek Kansas City ticket package. Techweek will run Oct. 8-12 at Union Station.

LaunchKC is fueled each year by the visionary support of corporate, public and philanthropic partners. For 2018, the sponsor honor roll includes:

 Supporters

Missouri Technology Corporation; the City of Kansas City, Missouri

Visionaries

Husch Blackwell; Kansas City Power & Light District / The Cordish Companies; Downtown Council of Kansas City; Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City; KCP&L; William T. Kemper Foundation; Lead Bank; Missouri Department of Economic Development

Contributing

Dunn Family Foundation; Google Fiber; Lathrop Gage, Polsinelli; Spring Venture Group

Emerging

Adknowledge; American Century Investments; Balance Point; ITEN; LightEdge Solutions; Metropolitan Community College, Parson & Associates, RubinBrown

Supporters

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center; Regnier Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurships; and the UMKC Bloch School of Business.

For more information, contact Mike Hurd at mike@downtownkc.org or visit www.launchkc.org and www.techweek.com.

Downtown Office Summit sets course for Oct. 17 event

The Downtown Council announced plans today for a fall summit meeting on the hottest element of Downtown’s escalating revitalization, the commercial office marketplace.

The second annual Downtown Office Summit is set for 2-5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17 at BNIM’s Crown Center office at 2460 E. Pershing Road, #100. It will feature a number of expert panelists and speakers, along with a powerhouse pair of bookend leaders to open and close the event.

The Hon. Sylvester James, Mayor of the City of Kansas City, Missouri, will serve as the keynote speaker and City Manager Troy Schulte will deliver closing remarks and a call to action. The Office Summit is expected to attract community and civic leaders, real estate developers, building owners and future Downtown office tenants.

“Downtown’s renaissance has entered the critical third wave of revitalization,” said Nate Orr, chairman of the Downtown Council Board of Directors and Partner at Spencer Fane LLP. “After revitalizing the residential sector and making major investments in visitor amenities, the rebirth of the office market is paramount to sustaining the momentum.

“This third wave is an economic game-changer that will elevate momentum at creating jobs, attracting talent, unlocking value and engaging private investment in Downtown.”

The Office Summit is designed to provide a better understanding of the Downtown Office Market today and to chart a course to greater success tomorrow, according to Gib Kerr, co-chair of the event and Director of Capital Markets in Kansas and Missouri for Cushman & Wakefield.

“Downtown Kansas City is one of the fastest growing downtowns in America,” Kerr said. “And, that means we are in the thick of competing for businesses – and the talent to elevate those companies – with large and small cities all across the country.”

The Downtown Office Summit will feature three components at BNIM on Oct. 17:

  • 2 p.m. – Office Summit Expo – a networking opportunity to learn more about the commercial office marketplace and the people who represent Downtown properties, opportunities and trends.
  • 3 p.m. – Office Summit Program – a series of speakers and panel discussions that illustrate the challenges and opportunities facing Downtown Kansas City in light of the rapid growth of commercial businesses marketplace, along with residents and visitors in Downtown. Kevin Collison, editor of CityScene KC, will serve as the event moderator. Highlights include…
    • Keynote address by Mayor Sly James
    • Market overview by Summit co-chairs Michael Klamm, Managing Director of CBRE and Gib Kerr of Cushman & Wakefield
    • Development panel featuring experts from Platform Ventures, 3D Development, Crown Center, Lathrop Gage, AREA Real Estate Advisors and EPOCH.
    • Tenant panel with leaders to share insights about the Downtown marketplace from Benton Lloyd & Chung, Centric, ACI Boland, BNIM, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Park University.
    • Summary & closing remarks by Troy Schulte, City Manager
  • 5:30 p.m. – Cocktail reception and networking to follow.

Tickets are now available from the Downtown Council via Eventbrite. The inaugural Office Summit last year sold out quickly, so you are encouraged to act soon.

The Downtown Office Summit is produced by the Downtown Council of Kansas City in partnership with the City of Kansas City, Missouri and the Economic Development Corporation. The summit is presented by Bank of America, BNIM, Crown Center and Lathrop Gage LLP.

For questions or more information, contact Julie Shippy at the Downtown Council, jules@downtownkc.org or 816-421-1539.

Construction to begin on Downtown portion of Prospect MAX

Future Prospect Avenue MAX stations will feature an interactive smart kiosk, real-time bus arrival information, shelter protection from the elements and enhanced lighting for improved safety and greater visibility.

Construction is set to begin next week on the Downtown portion of the Prospect MAX Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, the Kansas City Regional Transit Authority announced today.

The $55.8 million project will bring enhanced transit service along Kansas City’s 10-mile Prospect Avenue corridor from Downtown to 75th Street. The Downtown portion of the project includes construction of transit facilities at 12th Street and Grand Boulevard and at Petticoat Lane & Main Street.

Work is expected to begin Monday, Aug. 27 at 12th & Grand and on Monday, Sept. 10 at Petticoat & Main. Construction at both locations is scheduled to be complete by the end of the year.

Downtown bus stops will be temporarily relocated during construction:

  • Eastbound 12th at Grand boarding will move to 12th at McGee Street
  • Northbound Grand at 12th boarding will move south, closer to 13th Street
  • Westbound 11th at Petticoat boarding will move east, closer to Walnut Street

No disruption to bus routes is expected. Pedestrians are encouraged to follow the signs showing safe walking paths around construction to the temporary bus stops.

Once complete, the Downtown transit facilities will offer:

  • Improved pedestrian sidewalks
  • Level boarding MAX platforms for quicker boarding
  • Snow-ice melt system for platforms
  • Real-time arrivals on interactive kiosks
  • Bike parking
  • Modified bike lane on Grand to improve safety for cyclists
  • Ticket vending machine to speed boarding at 12th & Grand
  • More compact shelter design to allow more space for pedestrians at Petticoat and Main

Reducing bicycle-bus conflicts at 12th & Grand is a priority for the project. A “floating bus stop” will be installed with bicycle traffic flowing behind the bus shelter. It will be the first time this type of design will be implemented in Kansas City.

“KCATA and the City of Kansas City, MO, worked diligently to develop a design that is safer for all users,” KCATA President and CEO Robbie Makinen said. “It’s an improvement for transit users, pedestrians and cyclists. We’re excited to be making these much-needed improvements to Downtown.

“We hope it becomes a model for future bicycle-transit collaboration.”

MAX is RideKC’s brand for Bus Rapid Transit. KCATA operates two MAX BRT lines: Main MAX (opened 2005) and Troost MAX (opened 2011). Prospect MAX is projected to be complete in fall 2019.

Downtown welcomes Crossroads Preparatory Academy High School

Crossroads Preparatory Academy Principal Kirsten Brown (left) and Dean Johnson (right), Crossroads Charter Schools Executive Director, address the audience of Downtown stakeholders on Monday evening, as they prepare to cut the ribbon on the permanent home for the senior high school.

The Crossroads Charter Schools celebrated the opening its newest facility on Monday with a ribbon-cutting and tours of the permanent home of Crossroads Preparatory Academy at 816 Broadway.

Located in the heart of the Kansas City’s Garment District, the Historic Thayer Building is now home to nearly 200, 7th through 10th graders. It is expected to grow to serve 600, 7th to 12th graders by 2025.

“The passion the Crossroads Preparatory Academy (CPA) staff and scholars bring to this historic building is both exciting and contagious,” said Kirsten Brown, CPA principal. “

Teachers, parents and community members are eager to collaboratively transform the secondary educational experience and outcomes for the scholars of Kansas City through the work that will be done at CPA.”

Crossroads announced it would locate CPA in the Historic Thayer Building in February of this year. Since then, phase one of the building renovation has been completed, including unique learning spaces for 7th and 8th graders on one level and 9th and 10th graders on another. Future phases of the building renovation will include spaces for visual and performing arts, STEM labs, “maker spaces” and other common spaces within the building and construction of a gymnasium on the vacant land at 9th and Washington Streets.

“We partnered with MC Realty, BNIM Architects and Turner Construction on this project,” said Dean Johnson, executive director of Crossroads Charter Schools. “Through that partnership we’ve been able to achieve our goal of creating a space where all of our students could embrace and live out our core values of high expectations, authentic learning, creative culture and educational equity.”

With the opening of the permanent home for CPA, Johnson said Crossroads is also seeking other partnerships that further its core values.

One of those is the Crossroads Community Collaborative, an innovative community partnership that prepares students for real-world experiences. The Collaborative will supply talent to local businesses and organizations by providing integrated learning opportunities and equipping students with employable skills.

“Far too often skills in schools are taught in isolation and students are graduating without having the authentic experiences that demonstrate the connection between what they learn in the classroom to what they need in real life,” said Tysie McDowell-Ray, chief academic officer at Crossroads Charter Schools. “This Collaborative provides a solution to this problem and enhances the workforce by allowing our students to give back to their communities by solving real problems and completing real projects that meet industry needs.”

There are five different Partner Levels through which organizations can join the Collaborative, including Industry Mentor, Career Host and Project Supervisor. For more information about the Collaborative or to sign up email jgreason@crossroadsschoolskc.org.

About Crossroads Charter Schools

Crossroads Charter Schools is a network of three schools, which offers a dynamic K-12 education in the heart of Downtown Kansas City: Crossroads Academy – Central Street (K-6); Crossroads Academy – Quality Hill (K-5): and Crossroads Preparatory Academy (7-12). Currently serving nearly 800 students, Crossroads Charter Schools offer a unique model that emphasizes community engagement and 21st Century Learning. More information about Crossroads Charter Schools is available at crossroadsschoolskc.org.

Economic incentives produce 3.8-to-1 return citywide

A comprehensive study of economic incentives reveals that from 2006-2015 the City of Kansas City received a positive return on investments made by incentives programs, with each incentive dollar generating $3.83 in additional tax revenue. The City delivered the results of a comprehensive analysis of incentives on Thursday afternoon.

Kansas City commissioned the study with the goal of examining the historic impact of economic incentives on creating jobs, eliminating blight and generating new investment.

“This study has delivered a first-of-its kind look at the true value of incentives and their transformative effects on Kansas City,” said Mayor Sly James. “The information in this study helps ensure that future decisions regarding incentives are data-driven, not anecdotal, and shows how incentives have been essential in growing our city’s thriving economy and exciting momentum.”

In addition to the 3.8-1 return on investment, a presentation to the City Council on Thursday reported other significant successes in Kansas City during the 10-year study period:

  • Average number of jobs created across all industries was 23,430
  • Per capita income increased by an average of $3,906
  • Total personal income increased by an average of $2.29 billion
  • Average increase of $4.75 billion in total business sales
  • Average increase in economic activity of approximately $2.66 billion

“The study shows that using incentives accelerates the rate at which assessed value increases,” said City Manager Troy Schulte, “The data validates that incentives work, and we want developers to use this data to take their projects into economically-distressed areas that need them the most.”

The City hired the Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA) to independently design, conduct and deliver original research, results and data analysis of the city’s use of incentives.  The contract was managed by the city’s Office of Economic Development, a division of the City Manager’s Office.

“This analysis will also increase transparency and accountability by establishing a system to capture, maintain, and report economic development project data in a format that makes it easily accessible to policy-makers and the public,” said Kerrie Tyndall, Assistant City Manager for Economic Development.

No study like this has ever been conducted in Kansas City, and researchers faced a huge challenge from the very start. Data was spread across multiple counties and agencies, all of which tracked the information using different formats and storage systems. A key recommendation of the study is to standardize record-keeping across local jurisdictions.

Another benefit of this study is that the City now has a master set of data about incentives use, which becomes our new baseline for the future. We also have recommendations on the best metrics to use to evaluate success of incentives, as well as the best ways to monitor and report incentive programs to ensure transparency and accountability.

The study took longer than expected to complete, however, it delivered three studies for the price of one:

  • An economic impact analysis using only KCMO data
  • A geographic analysis using tax data from overlapping taxing jurisdictions
  • A process improvement analysis with recommendations to enhance data collection, data management and reporting of incentives data for the future.

The consulting team created the geographic analysis to determine where property values increased over time and where incentive usage occurred the most. The team’s unique approach layered data from various public sources to create a map of incentives, blight, and property value. The results of the geographic analysis were combined with other tax information to determine the impact of incentives.

“The CDFA consulting team was pleased to work with the City of Kansas City in evaluating the use of incentives,” said Katie Kramer, Vice President at the Council of Development Finance Agencies and project lead for the incentives study. “Not only did the city see a positive return on their investment, they did so during the period of the Great Recession, which is a testament to the commitment of the leadership and the economic vitality of the city.”

Other recommendations for managing incentives include:

  • Annual updates to the new master data set, using city and county sources
  • Incorporate data on incentive outcomes into KC Stat
  • Track and report actual and projected project performance separately
  • Work with the community to select additional economic indicators to track

This study is not an audit of the individual performance of incentivized projects, but it’s important to note that many projects incentivized in the 1990’s have recently matured, meaning the incentive period has ended and the companies are now paying full taxes.

“We are now seeing the benefits of those early investments,” said City Manager Schulte. “Residents should notice that increased tax revenues are now flowing into school districts, the library, city and other taxing jurisdictions to provide important services as the city grows.”

The full report is posted on the city’s website at  http://kcmo.gov/incentivesstudy.

For more information about the report, contact Kerrie Tyndall, Assistant City Manager for Economic Development at 816-513-6539 or kerrie.tyndall@kcmo.org

$95 million makeover to bring new glory to historic Star building

A food hall, boutique grocer and office complex along 18th Street is planned along with renovation of the historic Kansas City Star building. (Image from 3D Development)

Courtesy, Kevin Collison, CityScene KC

(Update: Development agreement approved unanimously by City Council Thursday)

A $95 million redevelopment plan for the former Kansas City Star property that includes renovating the historic structure, and building a boutique grocery store and marketplace above a 500-space underground garage has cleared its first hurdle at City Hall.

Developer Vincent Bryant laid out his ambitious plan to a Kansas City Council committee Thursday, saying he wanted to make the former Star campus the economic center of the Crossroads area.

In a prepared statement, he said, “We hope this development will be the trailhead of an 18th Street Corridor that extends connection from the Crossroads east to Vine Street.

“Physically and architecturally, these buildings are visual landmarks that offer a nod to Kansas City’s rich history, a history we intend to highlight and build upon for generations to come.”

Bryant and his local ownership group purchased the newspaper building at 1729 Grand last year for $12 million from McClatchy, the Star’s owner.

The historic Kansas City Star building opened in 1911 and was expanded in 1924. Current newspaper employees have been consolidated in the green Press Pavilion building in upper corner. (Image from 3D Development)

Key components of the redevelopment plan which covers the block between Grand and McGee, from 17th to 18th streets:

  • Renovation of the 225,000 square-foot existing building into office, data center and retail space. The historic structure was designed by Jarvis Hunt and opened in 1911. An addition was built in 1924.
  • Construction of a 45,000 square-foot food hall, boutique grocery store and office complex on the south side of the property along 18th Street. It would be separated from the historic building by about 90 feet. The three-level grocery and office building would be on the northwest corner of 18th and McGee, the food hall would be oriented toward the northeast corner of 18th and Grand.
  • Construction of a 500-space, four-level garage beneath the food hall and grocery/office building. Bryant said building underground would avoid blocking views of the historic building.
  • Eventual construction of a three-story office building at the north side of the property at the northeast corner of 17th and Grand.
  • A sports pub with several outdoor sand volleyball courts on the north side of the property at the northwest corner of 17th and McGee.

The project also includes an event hall, dining hall for tenants and guests, and outdoor meeting space.

To read the complete story with more images, go to CityScene KC.

 

NY Times shines global spotlight on Downtown KC

The KC Streetcar: Credit Anna Petrow for The New York Times

The Perfect Way to Explore Modern Kansas City? A Streetcar, Believe It or Not

The contemporary trolley, introduced in 2016, takes visitors to an arts district, an entertainment district and a happy state of mind.

By Richard Rubin, The New York Times

In 2002, when Sylvester “Sly” James moved his law office to downtown Kansas City, Mo., he made a wager with a colleague. “I bet him I could walk across Main Street naked at 6 p.m. and nobody would see it,” he recalled. “And the proof that I was right is that no video of that has ever shown up on YouTube.” Downtown, he said, “was freakin’ desolate.”

A decade later, Chris Hernandez remembered, he saw an item on the local news about a two-car accident downtown one evening at 7. “I took it as a sign that things were turning around,” he said. “There were actually two cars there to hit each other!”

As it turns out, Mr. Hernandez was onto something: Things were, in fact, starting to turn around. Today Kansas City can be said to have actually achieved the elusive dream of scores of proud old American cities that have seen better days: It has revived its downtown, which now skews closer to “bustling” than “desolate” many nights.

Mr. Hernandez is the city’s director of communications; Mr. James is its mayor. Both can rattle off countless examples of nearly miraculous urban revitalization: thriving businesses in storefronts that stood vacant for years; gleaming new high-rise apartment blocks that are largely (some say entirely) rented out even before they’re completed; vibrant arts and culinary scenes. But you can see what is arguably the single best embodiment of the phenomenon for yourself at regular intervals as you stroll along — or even stand still on — downtown’s Main Street.

If at this point your mind absolutely must drift to 1940s musical lyrics, I recommend nudging it away from “everything’s up to date in Kansas City” and toward “clang clang clang went the trolley” (even though, technically, that one is set in St. Louis; same state, anyway).

Pizzas at Il Lazzarone, a restaurant at the River Market West streetcar stop. Credit: Anna Petrow for The New York Times

Yes: Kansas City has a trolley. And not one of those old-timey trolleys that doesn’t go much of anywhere and goes there slowly. The one in Kansas City is sleek. Modern. Has air-conditioning and Wi-Fi.It runs a real route — 2.2 miles from end to end, then back again — through the heart of downtown.

At peak times, like rush hour, one comes along every 10 minutes; off-peak, it’s more like every 12 to 18 minutes. (Every stop has digital kiosks announcing how soon the next one will be along.) It starts running at 6 a.m. and doesn’t stop until midnight on weeknights, 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. (This being the Midwest, on Sundays it starts late — 7 a.m. — and shuts down early, at 11 p.m.)

Oh: And it’s free.

And not, technically, a trolley; they take great care here to remind you (cheerfully) that it’s a streetcar. That may seem like a distinction without a difference, but it reflects the way the city and its denizens view it. A trolley, in this day and age, is a self-conscious quaintness, almost an amusement-park ride; a streetcar, on the other hand — as Mr. Hernandez explained — is more of a “pedestrian accelerator.”

And, as it turns out, an attraction, too.

The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Credit: Anna Petrow for The New York Times

In my experience, the whole “Midwestern nice” thing can be overstated; but not when it comes to Kansas City. Step off the KC Streetcar (as it is officially known) and look around as if you don’t know where you are going and a passer-by will stop and ask where you’re trying to get to. Sport that expression while you’re still riding it and someone sitting across the aisle from you will do the same thing. Ask them how they like the streetcar and they will tell you, sincerely and in a fair bit of detail.And they do like it. They ride it. The city — which has a population just under a half-million — projected one million riders in the streetcar’s first year; it got twice as many by day 364. A year later that figure exceeded four million.

No one would have predicted such a phenomenon as recently as the beginning of this decade.Back then, Mr. James recalled, “things were slow here. People were depressed. They didn’t believe the city could do things.”

But then Kansas City won a lottery of sorts: In the spring of 2011 — just as Mr. James was starting his first term as mayor — Google announced that it would be inaugurating its broadband internet and television service, Google Fiber, there. “That was a big boost,” Mr. James recalled. “Google was putting us on the map — we could leverage that.”

They did. The streetcar — which made its first run on May 6, 2016 — wasn’t by any means the only element of downtown’s revitalization, but it was perhaps the boldest, and certainly the most dynamic. “It’s been a tremendous catalytic thing,” Mr. James said. “It’s created much more flow—more profits for businesses downtown, more foot traffic.” In the streetcar’s first year of operation, revenue from sales taxes along its route — an area known as the Transportation Development District, or T.D.D. — rose 54 percent, as opposed to 16 percent citywide.

Birdie’s, a boutique in the Crossroads Arts District. Credit: Anna Petrow for The New York Times

If this seems like a boon for those businesses, you could say they earned it: “They decided it would be free,” the mayor explains — paid for by a special assessment on business owners and residential landlords along the T.D.D. (The construction boom in new high rises that are rented out before they’re even completed would seem to indicate that landlords are O.K. with the surtax, too.) “The funds,” Mr. James said, “are more than sufficient to cover the costs. It’s worked out very well.”

Unlike most successful ventures, few individuals have claimed credit for Kansas City’s streetcar; most, when asked, will give you an answer like Mr. Hernandez’s: “It was a very grass-roots effort,” he said. “How to create the streetcar, where it should go. Businesses and residents were involved at every step — where to have stops, their exact placement, even what they should look like.”

The route they all devised does a good job of introducing downtown Kansas City to both tourists and locals who had never really gotten acquainted with it before — and, perhaps coincidentally, showcasing the area’s revival.

It starts and ends at the point where decades of visitors arrived at and departed from the city: Union Station, an imposing 1914 classical structure that, despite its grandeur and the fact that it once hosted more than a half million travelers a year, was actually closed for a decade and a half in the 1980s and 90s; today it’s a museum as well as a functioning rail depot, and the anchor of a neighborhood that includes the Crown Center,an indoor shopping and entertainment complex, and the National World War I Memorial and Museum.

Farmers sell fresh meats and produce at City Market at River Market. Credit: Anna Petrow for The New York Times

Heading north, it stops next at the Crossroads Arts District, a neighborhood of old warehouses and factories that have been reclaimed as live/work spaces and is now home to a lively arts scene. Then comes the Power & Light District — named for an Art Deco 1931 skyscraper that was for decades both the home of the local electric utility company and the tallest building west of the Mississippi — which is the city’s newest entertainment district; it features the Sprint Center (a sports and concert arena), Kansas City Live! (a block-square outdoor atrium surrounded by pubs and restaurants and containing a performance stage and massive Jumbotron), most of those new residential high rises and, naturally, the world headquarters of H & R Block.

The next stop is Metro Center, home to government buildings, business offices, hotels, cafes and restaurants; then the Library stop, named for the city’s Central Library, which occupies a 1906 bank building that features 13-foot-high bronze doors, a roof garden with a life-size chess set, and a basement vault that has been converted to a movie theater; then the North Loop, which doesn’t have much of note yet except a neat older Western Union building and a neat newer office building known as “the flashcube” because, well, it looks like a flashcube; and finally the River Market, which includes old warehouses that have been converted to lofts, lots of restaurants and an expansive farmer’s market that has been going year-round since 1857.

There are edifices worthy of a good long look all along the route, but none more arresting than what you will spot looking out the window to your left as you shuttle from Crossroads to Power & Light: There, up on a hill, is the Moshe Safdie-designed Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2011 and which, depending upon your aesthetic sensibilities, you will find either sublime or terrifying.

The National World War I Memorial and Museum. Credit: Anna Petrow for The New York Times

It contains two 1,500-plus-seat theaters, each of which, I am told, has fine acoustics; the building, which sits on more than 18 acres, is said to have been so well-designed that it can and often does host two different performances simultaneously without any aural crossover. In addition to hosting touring companies, the city’s symphony orchestra and opera and ballet companies all call it home. “We have a very strong arts scene here in Kansas City,” Jean Luzader, a volunteer at the Kauffman Center, told me. “People think we have cows running through the streets, you know, but we don’t.”

Streetcars — once almost ubiquitous, later almost extinct — are having a moment: In the past five years, lines have also started operating in Salt Lake City, Tucson, Dallas, Cincinnati and Detroit. (Two others, in Milwaukee and Oklahoma City, are scheduled to open by the end of this year.) Some have been more successful and transformative than others, but few seem to have had the impact of Kansas City’s. It’s the only one that’s free to ride, but what really makes it distinct is the palpable sense that is more than just a way of moving people around: It’s a movement — one that, judging by the crowds riding on weekends, transcends age and ethnicity.

Everyone seems to like each other, too. “When you’re on the streetcar,” Mr. Hernandez said, “you truly get a sense of community. It gets people off their phones and talking to each other again. I see it every time I’m on it. I think people who are from Kansas City are having fun talking to visitors and telling them about places they should check out.”

The Crossroads Arts District. Credit: Anna Petrow for The New York Times

Of course, many of them — locals and visitors — are there to check out the streetcar itself.Riding it around and around will strike a certain type of person as a fine — not to mention economical — way to pass a few hours. Technically, you’re supposed to get off and re-board every time it pulls into Union Station; but this being the Midwest, no one will get too terribly upset if you stay put instead. Just smile.


Richard Rubin is the author of “The Last of the Doughboys” and “Back Over There.”

Correction: 

An earlier version of this article inaccurately described Kansas City’s location in relation to the Mississippi River. It is west of the river, not east.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page TR9 of the New York edition with the headline: It’s Not Named Desire, but They Love It Just the Same. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Mayor Barnes honored for her legacy, commitment to Downtown

Mayor Sly James praises former Mayor Kay Barnes accomplishments at the celebration last week.

By Kevin Collison, CitySceneKC.com

Former Mayor Kay Barnes now has the Convention Center Grand Ballroom named after her, but her lasting legacy was on display beyond the windows of the ballroom lobby where the event was held last week.

From its vantage point above the South Loop freeway, the Sprint Center, H&R Block office tower and Power & Light District were clearly visible.

“Look out the window and you’ll see what Kay did,” Mayor Sly James told the audience. “I have a sense of what that took. People don’t like the way things are, but they hate change. Kay Barnes set the stage for this city’s revival that we see continuing to flourish today.”

Barnes became mayor in 1999 when much of the south third of the Central Business District was in shambles after decades of neglect. Attorney Herb Kohn, who was master of ceremony at the ballroom dedication ceremony, checked off the sad list.

“Downtown consisted of a wig shop, a dirty bookstore, a massage parlor and lots of empty office buildings,” he said, adding a couple of those buildings were used as haunted houses a few weeks out of the year. “Kay’s vision was clear, ‘I want to rebuild Downtown.'”

Former Mayor Barnes enjoys unveiling of sculpture honoring her, “Woman Walking Tall” by Kansas City artist Tom Corbin.

The first step was persuading H&R Block to relocate its headquarters from Main Street near the Country Club Plaza to 13th and Main. At the same time, Baltimore-based Cordish Co. was approached about creating an entertainment district on the surrounding eight blocks.

The third critical piece of the revival puzzle was when Barnes used her friendship with Tim Leiweke, then a top executive at Los Angles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to partner on a new arena at Truman Road and Grand. It didn’t hurt that Barnes had met Phil Anschutz, the AEG founder, while both attended the University of Kansas.

Click here to read the complete story in CitySceneKC.Com, including a video clip of the event.

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Voters say YES to KC Streetcar extension to UMKC

The KC Streetcar reached a milestone on Wednesday, as voters approved local funding for 3.5-mile extension from Union Station to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Voters in the Main Street Rail Transportation Development District (TDD) have overwhelmingly approved the local funding structure to support the KC Streetcar Main Street Extension. The final tally was roughly 75.6 percent yes on Question 1 (sales tax) and 74.7 percent yes on Question 2 (special assessments). Final results are available on the KC Election Board website,

In August 2017, these same voters approved formation of the Kansas City Main Street Rail TDD with a 70 percent yes vote and in October 2017, entire slate of TDD Board of Directors endorsed by Mayor Sly James was elected to oversee the TDD. This was the third in a series of local elections to seek local approval for a KC Streetcar Main Street Extension project.

The Main Street Rail TDD is a separate entity from the Kansas City Streetcar Authority and the City of Kansas City, Missouri. This latest election allows the TDD Board of Directors to impose the TDD’s revenue sources, which will generate local funding to support the Main Street extension of the KC Streetcar.

The TDD’s revenue sources will not be collected until the extension is fully funded, either through Federal grants or other non-TDD sources and will replace and expand the existing downtown TDD used to support the starter-line’s construction and operations. The TDD boundary extends from the Missouri River on the north to 53rd Street on the south; State Line Road on the west to Campbell Street on the east.

“We are grateful for the voter’s support today and will work closely with the KCSA, the City of Kansas City and the KCATA to ensure this projects’ success. We are also grateful for all the hard work, time and energy put in by the volunteers and transit advocates during this election process,” said Jan Marcason, chair of the TDD.

The funding structure is similar to the current downtown TDD structure in which:

  • A sales tax not to exceed 1 percent on retail sales within the TDD boundary.
  • A special assessment on real estate within the TDD boundary, with maximum annual rates as follows:
    • 48¢ for each $100 of assessed value for commercial property
    • 70¢ for each $100 of assessed value for residential property
    • $1.04 for each $100 of assessed value for property owned by the City
  • 40¢ for each $100 of assessed value for real property exempt from property tax, such as religious, educational, charitable, etc. property, but only on market value more than $300,000 and less than $50 Million.

A supplemental special assessment on surface pay parking lots within the TDD boundary (not garages and not free parking lots). The maximum rate for the supplemental special assessment on surface pay parking lots will be $54.75 per space per year. This special assessment primarily applies to parcels in the Downtown area.

“The completion of our local funding mechanism is a critical step necessary to advance this project for federal funding and bring the project to life,” said Tom Gerend, executive director with the Kansas City Streetcar Authority. “This is one step in a long process but the strong support from the public is a great motivator for all of us and reinforces the importance of making this vision a reality.”

The KC Streetcar project team, consisting of the KC Streetcar Authority (KCSA), the KC Area Transportation Authority (KCATA), the City of Kansas City, MO (KCMO), and the consultant team led by HDR, Inc., has continued to advance the project planning for the Main Street Extension to UMKC, including work to refine streetcar stop locations, track alignments, and coordinated transit connections.

The KC Streetcar Main Street Extension project is being planned through a data-driven process. In order to build the best streetcar extension for Kansas City, the planning group is looking at operational efficiency, cost, constructability and public input. The Main Street extension would run from Union Station to the vicinity of the University of Missouri-Kansas City at approximately 51st and Main Street.

The project team recently held two public meetings in order to gather community input on stop locations and track alignment. A final recommendation from the project team about stop locations and track alignment, along with projected cost, will be available to the public this summer.

KC Streetcar tops 4 million passenger trips in 2 years

 

The KC Streetcar celebrated its second birthday on Sunday by simply doing its job.

Two years earlier, the Downtown KC Streetcar service opened to much fanfare after five years of planning, designing and construction. With four vehicles and 2.2 miles of route, the KC Streetcar completed 4,037,499 trips since opening day in 2016.

“In two short years, Downtown residents, employees, and visitors have embraced the KC Streetcar and have ridden at record numbers. The transformation of Downtown and the excitement its generated is nothing but remarkable,” said Tom Gerend, executive director of KC Streetcar Authority. “We thank Kansas City and greater Downtown, including our partners with the City of Kansas City and the KC Area Transportation Authority for the amazing support and believe the best is yet to come.”

During the first two years of service, the KC Streetcar traveled 257,840 miles and logged 32,550 vehicle hours. The KC Streetcar team (operations and maintenance) has 30 employees who keep the streetcar running 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

In addition to providing free, reliable and efficient public transit, the KC Streetcar also supports local businesses, events and the arts community by supporting programs such as Art in the Loop, National Travel & Tourism Week, Downtown Dazzle, Techweek Kansas City, and more.

The KC Streetcar is not the only thing seeing an increase in numbers.  Downtown Kansas City is also booming. Since the Downtown streetcar project was approved by the voters, there has been more than $2.1 billion dollars invested in the Greater Downtown Kansas City area, with more than $1.1 billion still planned.  This includes residential, commercial, retail and hotel developments.  Other Downtown growth facts include:

  • 25,078 residents
  • 16,630 residential units (this includes multi-family and single-family homes)
  • 90,595 employees
  • 2,221 hotel rooms

“The KC Streetcar has continued to make a positive impact in the City Market,” said Deb Churchill, City Market property manager. “Our tenants saw an increase in sales the first year of service and the momentum has continued. The Streetcar has proven to be instrumental in creating a connectivity with Downtown and the Crossroads that we had been lacking for years.”

The KC Streetcar has made a difference for visitors, employees, businesses and residents.

“I work in the Crossroads Arts District and live in Columbus Park. Every day I walk from home to the City Market streetcar stop and take the streetcar to the Kauffman Center stop.  Having the streetcar has allowed my family to support public transit and become a one-car family,” said AJ Harbison, downtown resident.

Since streetcar service began, there has been at least 20 new businesses open along or near the Main Street route.

“We opened a year ago in the City Market and the KC Streetcar has been instrumental for our business,” said Robin Luther, owner of Hawthorne 109. “The streetcar connects our boutique to people who live and work Downtown with the convenience of having a stop at 5th & Main.”

As response to the demand in ridership, the KC Streetcar Authority ordered two more streetcar vehicles for the Downtown route.  Those vehicles should arrive in 2019.  Additionally, the KC Streetcar Authority, along with the City of Kansas City, the KC Area Transportation Authority and Port KC, are planning for future streetcar extensions north towards Berkley Riverfront as well as south to UMKC.

More information on both of those projects can be found on the KC Streetcar website.

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