Silicon Prairie Thrives in Downtown

Downtown is blossoming into a creative crossroads that beckons creative, innovative entrepreneurs – from start-ups to industry leaders; from high tech to high touch – building the kinds of businesses that excel with the best minds in America.

The concentration of these businesses, particularly in and around the Crossroads Arts District, provides a fertile foundation for the mixture of information technology businesses and creative, arts-related organizations to germinate new ideas and IT applications.

KCPT – in partnership with the Downtown Council – recently produced a story for The Local Show about the burgeoning tech district in Downtown. The story features three tech start-ups in the Crossroads – RareWire, Sporting Innovations and Sight Deck – along with news from Launch KC and the new Digital Sandbox at Union Station.

“It is no coincidence that Launch KC was unveiled the day after Google Fiber completed its first-ever registration drive in KCMO and KCK,” said Bill Dietrich, president and CEO of the Downtown Council. “We are eager to show the world that Kansas City, Missouri, is not only getting wired for one gigabit fiber, but also is flourishing as a hub of technology and creativity.”

Launch KC is a Kansas City, Missouri, strategic initiative designed to attract and develop IT entrepreneurs and professionals to the thriving information technology community in the Crossroads and throughout greater Downtown. Research shows 157 tech-related businesses are currently located in greater Downtown, employing nearly 4,000 people.

Launch KC was conceived last year through public-private collaboration on the Mayors’ Bi-State Innovation Task Force and developed under the leadership of the Mayor’s office, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) of Kansas City and the Downtown Council (DTC) of Kansas City. The current Launch KC task force, chaired by Mike Burke, features a team of business and civic leaders, economic developers, I.T. entrepreneurs and communication industry experts.

“This is where I.T. start-ups take off,” Mayor Sly James said at the launch party last fall. “Launch KC will help fuel interest in Downtown from both start-up entrepreneurs and expanding tech companies. It’s about attracting more companies with a vision for an emerging silicon prairie right here in Downtown.”

 

Digital Sandbox to Spur Tech Entrepreneurs in Downtown

Digital Sandbox KC, an unprecedented partnership among private companies, universities, entrepreneurial support organizations and government agencies across the Kansas City region, has announced key details of the effort to spur development of local IT-related start-up businesses in greater Downtown Kansas City.

Digital Sandbox KC represents one of the goals that the Downtown Council and the Economic Development Corporation helped to put in motion last September, when the Launch KC initiative was introduced by Mayor Sly James. Launch KC is a strategic initiative designed to attract and develop IT entrepreneurs and professionals to the thriving information technology community in the Crossroads Arts District and throughout greater Downtown.

The Digital Sandbox project, led by the Innovation Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, has named a veteran technology entrepreneur as its director: Jeff Shackelford, the co-founder and founder, respectively, of two companies: Birch Telecom, and Tech Guys, Inc.

 Maria Meyers, director of the UMKC Innovation Center and one of the leaders driving the Sandbox concept, announced the 15-member Advisory Board to Digital Sandbox KC at a special ceremony on Friday, Feb. 1, at Union Station.

Gov. Jay Nixon, Mayor Sly James and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II joined top executives from Kansas City corporate icons Hallmark, Sprint, UMB Bank, Cerner, VML, RareWire and more at the announcement event at Union Station, where Digital Sandbox KC will be housed. At the Sandbox, technology innovators and entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to brainstorm and problem-solve with top people from the private sector corporate partners to find marketable applications for new discoveries, as well as “orphan technologies” from both corporate- and university-based development labs. The corporate partners will also bring their technological hurdles to the Sandbox, and brainstorm with peers and experts to develop solutions.

 Digital Sandbox KC is unique among economic development and entrepreneurship efforts in that it is supported by a wide array of private sector partners as well as economic development agencies, non-profit groups and universities. Corporate partners will provide boots-on-the-ground mentoring and advising from top executives. Digital Sandbox KC is a key initiative in the effort to brand Kansas City as “America’s Most Entrepreneurial City.”

UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton said the involvement of private sector corporate partners in Digital Sandbox KC will be a key element in its success – and a sign of those partners’ commitment to civic leadership.

“Today, our civic and business leadership is coming together in a way that is truly unprecedented,” Morton said. “Kansas City was built by entrepreneurs. They started out as acorns, full of potential, and eventually grew into mighty oaks. And as they grew, this community grew with them. Now, they are dedicating themselves to nurturing a new generation of seedlings. They are providing support to help cultivate those who will eventually sit with them as peers at the table of civic responsibility.”

In terms of eligibility, all ideas related to IT are welcome; but the Sandbox will have four key focus areas:

  • data center and cloud operations

  • big data and data analytics

  • mobile applications, and

  • data security

Eligible applicants include emerging, startup and established companies and technology transfer offices, both corporate and academic. Digital Sandbox KC is also open to established companies seeking to add value to a “shelved” technology – a technology that will not be further developed inside the company, but may have relevance in the market.

People from outside of the Kansas City region are encouraged to apply, but any operations associated with technology development and establishment of resulting business or business expansion must be located within the Kansas City CSA.

The Sandbox offers proof-of-concept funding to support early-stage commercialization processes, such as prototyping expenses. It will also offer visibility and access to corporate resources and a variety of organizations that provide support. If people are not chosen specifically for the Sandbox program, KCSourceLink will do its best to get them placed with others who might provide assistance.

 The deadline for the first round of applications is midnight March 1, 2013.

Digital Sandbox KC is the result of a U.S. Department of Commerce $1 million grant to create a proof of concept center to spur development of information technology–related start-up businesses in the Kansas City region.

The grant was obtained by a UMKC-led consortium, one of the winning teams in the third round of the federal i6 Challenge. The i6 Challenge is a multi-agency federal grant that encourages and rewards innovative, groundbreaking ideas that accelerate technology commercialization, new venture formation, job creation, and economic growth across the United States.  The awards are highly competitive and only one award is made in each of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency’s multi-state regions.

Consortium leaders anticipate that the Digital Sandbox will generate a minimum of 10 new high-growth companies with either follow-on funding or at least $1 million in revenue each within two years of the launch.

Governor to launch Digital Sandbox on Friday

Gov. Jay Nixon will join top executives from Kansas City corporate leaders Hallmark, Sprint, UMB Bank, Cerner, VML, RareWire and more at 1:30 p.m. Friday to help the UMKC Innovation Center launch the new Digital Sandbox KC, a proof-of-concept and mentoring center for high-tech start-ups.

Digital Sandbox KC represents one of the goals that the Downtown Council and Economic Development Corporation helped to put in motion last September, when the Launch KC initiative was introduced by Mayor Sly James. Launch KC is a strategic initiative designed to attract and develop IT entrepreneurs and professionals to the thriving information technology community in the Crossroads Arts District and throughout greater Downtown.

“Digital Sandbox KC, Where Innovators Come to Play,” is the result of a highly competitive $1 million federal grant won by UMKC to create a center to spur development of IT-related start-up businesses in the Kansas City region.  At the launch event, officials will reveal the center’s director, advisory board, application process and eligibility guidelines and details of how the center will operate.

Digital Sandbox KC is unique among economic development and entrepreneurship efforts in that it is supported by a wide array of private sector partners as well as economic development agencies, non-profit groups, like the Downtown Council, and universities. Corporate partners will provide not just financial support but boots-on-the-ground mentoring and advising from top executives. Digital Sandbox KC is a key initiative in the effort to brand Kansas City as “America’s Most Entrepreneurial City.”

Friday’s event will begin at 1:30 p.m. in the Extreme Screen Theater, B level, Union Station. To register and find out more about the Digital Sandbox KC, click here.

Historic restorations provide a lift to 18th & Vine

The historic 18th & Vine Jazz District in greater Downtown Kansas City received some grand attention in the local news media today. Reporter Lynn Horsley wrote today’s lead story about the restoration of five historic homes and one hotel in the 1800 block of Highland.

The story marks a new chapter in the revitalization of this culturally rich neighborhood on the east side of greater Downtown.

Kansas City Star, Jan. 10, 2013 — The tiny wood frame houses on a block just off 18th and Vine were once considered by some people as embarrassing eyesores that needed to be torn down.

But a determined band of historic preservationists saw something very different in those properties, dating from the late 1800s, and launched an epic battle to save them.

They saw the last remnants of what had been a thriving African-American residential neighborhood, filled with doctors and other professionals who fostered the cultural vibrancy for which 18th and Vine is known worldwide.

So the past has been brought back to life, as five formerly forlorn bungalows that now show off new pastel exteriors: robin’s-egg blue, taupe, olive green, mellow yellow and russet-red.

It’s just the most visible sign of the restoration of the historic homes, along with the Rochester Hotel, in the 1800 block of Highland Avenue.

“I’m thrilled with the news that they’re near completion,” said preservation consultant Sally Schwenk, who joined forces in the 1990s with preservation activists Jane Flynn and Mamie Hughes to save the houses. “It’s nice to see, finally after all the work over all the years, that we have arrived at a milestone.”

The houses were built between 1885 and 1913. The Rochester Hotel across the street, where Negro League teams once stayed when in town, was built in 1920.

Hughes remembers when some civic leaders scoffed and said the “shacks” on Highland needed to be demolished.

But she was determined to prevent that from happening.

The district gained national historic designation in 1991, in part because these modest wooden houses reflected the life of middle-class blacks owning property at the turn of the century.

But then the houses were allowed to deteriorate, right across the street from the Mutual Musicians Foundation, one of Kansas City’s two national historic landmarks. The other is the Liberty Memorial.

At one point in 2000, Flynn warned that the area was losing too many original buildings and should be removed from the National Register of Historic Places. City officials rallied to prevent that.

Flynn died in 2006, but both Hughes and Schwenk say they are relieved and gratified at the realization of a long-deferred dream.

“My heart is down there,” Hughes said of the Highland Avenue neighborhood.

Long crusade

The restoration has definitely been a crusade requiring patience and relentless tenacity.

“If ever there was an example of the race is not given to the swift, it was this project,” said Denise Gilmore, president of the Jazz District Redevelopment Corp.

Beginning in 2003, the district spent nearly $400,000 in loans and federal funds to acquire and mothball the houses, the hotel and three vacant lots. Hughes recalls that along with professionals, some dedicated high school students helped clean and stabilize the properties against weather damage and vandalism.

In 2006, the district started working with affordable-housing developer Brian Collins to put together the financing, hoping for low-income and historic tax credits, to turn the hotel and houses into 22 affordable apartments.

They were days away from getting a building permit and starting construction in 2008, when the financial markets collapsed and the project lost the investor who had planned to buy the low-income tax credits.

So back to the drawing board. It took until August 2011 to knit together a new financing package.

The project ultimately will cost about $5 million, including $1.6 million in historic tax credits, $2.3 million from a housing agency receivership case, and about $1 million in federal and city funds.

The cost was way more than the properties are worth from a strictly financial standpoint. But that wasn’t the whole point.

“We’re completing 22 units of housing, at $200,000 per unit and, more importantly, we’re preserving that piece of history for the city,” said Collins, a principal with Dromara Development.

The hotel and five houses are close to completion and should be available for occupancy this month or in early February.

Collins said contractors discovered that the flooring and interior of a sixth house, 1816 Highland, had deteriorated too much to qualify for the historic tax credits. So he is exploring different financing options to finish that house, which he hopes can occur in the next four months.

“We’re going to get that done,” Collins said. “It will happen.”

Labor of love

For the contractor, Greenleaf Construction, work on the five houses and the Rochester Hotel has been a labor of love and meticulous care. Wherever possible, the hardwood floors have been saved and restored. In one house, an authentic slate fireplace has been reconstructed, and in another the entire foundation was rebuilt and set back down. The siding on the houses was taken off to allow for lead paint removal, and then put back on in the same place as if reassembling a puzzle.

“We had trailers full of cleaned trim and siding,” Collins said.

It’s been a good learning experience, said Steven Henderson, project manager with Greenleaf.

“Trying to fit the new into the old, that’s a challenge,” he said.

And there’s much that’s new in these units, including rebuilt interiors with modern appliances such as combo washer/dryers that don’t need to be vented.

Whereas the Rochester Hotel once had about 45 tiny units for transient residents, it now has 12 spacious one- and two-bedroom units on three floors. On the third floor, the west-side unit has impressive views of Downtown, including of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

The Jazz District already has 246 units of new housing, and completion of this historic preservation project will accomplish the district’s current plans for residential development.

The units are available to people making 80 percent of area median income, which for a two-person family is $45,600. Rents on the units in the houses range from $370 for an upstairs studio apartment at 1826 Highland to $700 for the largest two-bedroom unit on the first floor of 1822 Highland.

Rents in the Rochester are between $490 for smaller one-bedroom units and $675 for the two-bedroom apartments.

Gilmore said most of the 22 units should be available for occupancy early this year, and she’s confident they’ll fill up quickly. She’s been keeping a waiting list of people who have been calling for more than a year.

“If the units are ready,” Gilmore said, “our intent is to get people in.”

Schwenk hopes the houses and neighborhood will be a place for future generations to learn about a bygone era.

“The tangible symbols are what I want my grandchildren to see,” she said. “They’re like totems. They tell us about the past and about the culture.”

Newsweek names Mayor James one of the nation’s most innovative mayors

Congratulations to Mayor Sly James  for being named one of the “Most Innovative Mayors” in the country by Newsweek Magazine.

The Mayor is credited with shaping the entrepreneurial infrastructure that is fueling the growth of tech start-ups in Downtown Kansas City.

Check it out: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/12/16/most-innovative-mayors-in-the-u-s.html

LaunchKC to propel silicon prairie in Downtown

Kansas City has lift-off!

Business and civic leaders gathered on Monday to introduce a new initiative that is designed to drive awareness and growth of the city’s flourishing information technology district in Downtown Kansas City.

“It is no coincidence that Launch KC is being unveiled on Monday, Sept. 10 – the day after Google Fiber completed its first-ever registration drive in KCMO and KCK,” said Mayor Sly James. “We are eager to show the world that Kansas City, Missouri, is not only getting wired for one gigabit fiber, but also is flourishing as a hub of technology and creativity.”

Launch KC is a KCMO strategic initiative designed to attract and develop IT entrepreneurs and professionals to the thriving information technology community in the Crossroads Arts District and throughout greater Downtown Kansas City, Missouri.  Economic Development Corporation research shows 157 IT businesses are currently located in greater Downtown, employing nearly 4,000 people.

“The concentration of these businesses, particularly in the Crossroads area, provides a fertile foundation for the mixture of information technology businesses and creative, arts-related organizations to germinate new ideas and IT applications,” said Pete Fullerton, president and CEO of the EDC.

Launch KC was conceived this year through public-private collaboration on the Mayor’s Bi-State Innovation Task Force and developed under the leadership of the Mayor’s office, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) of Kansas City and the Downtown Council (DTC) of Kansas City. The current Launch KC task is features a team of civic leaders, economic developers IT entrepreneurs and communication industry experts.

“This is where IT start-ups take off,” Mayor James said. “Launch KC will help fuel interest in Downtown from both start-up entrepreneurs and expanding tech companies. It’s about attracting more companies with a vision for an emerging silicon prairie right here in Downtown.”

The Launch KC press conference on Monday was held on the Barkley rooftop at 1740 Main St. The agenda featured representatives of the Launch KC organizing team including Mayor James; Pete Fullerton, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City; Paul Vhlahos, CEO of SightDeck, Los Angeles; Ron Coker,  chairman of the board of the Downtown Council of Kansas City and vice president of Burns & McDonnell; and Mike Burke, co-chair of the Mayors’ Bi-State Innovation Task Force.

The Launch KC announcement focuses on five strategies to attract entrepreneurs and business leaders to start, expand or relocate their IT enterprises in Downtown:

  • Capacity – Increase computing capacity for entrepreneurs
  • Mobility – Provide greater mobility via free high-speed WiFi access in Downtown
  • Incentives – Create City incentives that are meaningful to small start-ups
  • Innovation – Generate a proof of concept lab to test new ideas
  • Collaboration – Engage successful Downtown businesses to aid entrepreneurs

“Downtown is blossoming into a creative crossroads that beckons creative, innovative entrepreneurs – from start-ups to industry leaders; from high tech to high touch – building the kinds of businesses that excel with the best minds in America,” said Ron Coker, chairman of the Downtown Council. “We are starting to see interest from businesses that want to connect to the energy of Downtown.”

The news media took great interest in the Launch KC announcement. To review some of the media coverage, follow these links:

http://www.kctv5.com/video

http://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/news/2012/09/10/kansas-city-dangles-carrots-for.html

http://www.kansascity.com/2012/09/10/3807994/launch-kc-aims-to-attract-it-startups.html

http://marc.digitalcitymechanics.com/2012/09/11/launchkc-announced-focused-on-small-businesses/

http://techli.com/2012/09/launch-kc-fueled-by-google-fiber-project/

http://www.kmbz.com/Launch-KC-to-attract-high-tech-companies/14206762

http://www.examiner.com/article/launch-kc-lifts-off-this-afternoon-the-crossroads-district

http://www.siliconprairienews.com/2012/09/mayor-unveils-launch-kc-effort-to-attract-and-develop-tech-business?utm_campaign=&utm_medium=spne.ws-other&utm_source=t.co&utm_content=api

http://www.kcur.org/post/kc-mayor-tech-startup-companies-welcome

 For more information on Launch KC, visit www.LaunchKC.com or www.EDCKC.com.

 

 

 

LaunchKC.com

Google countdown is on! Deadline is midnight today

This is it! Today (Sunday, Sept. 9) is the last day for KCMO and KCK residents (or property owners) to pre-register for Google fiber. Every fiberhood that meets its Google goal by midnight tonight will receive the state of the art 1-gigabit network for high-speed internet and TV service. There are no guarantees for the fiberhoods that do not meet their goals.

12 of the 14 greater Downtown KCMO fiberhoods have already accomplished their goals. In fact, two are ranked in the top 10 in KCMO — Crown Center (#1) and Crossroads (#6)!
Conversely, two fiberhoods are still short of their goals — Quality Hill (down by 106) and Paseo West (off by 21).
If you live or own residential property OR if you have friends, family, employees or clients who live in any of the Downtown fiberhoods — particularly those two that need a late rally — please make some calls today and encourage them to pre-register today. It costs only $10 to register. Residents will have the opportunity to decide about Google service plans and rates at a later date.
For more information, visit www.google.com/fiber or stop by the Google Fiber Space at State Line and Westport Road.
Let’s get it done, Downtown!

Business District tops Google goal; 2 more fiberhoods to go!

Downtown’s latest win in the Google Fiber race came on Wednesday evening with the Business District fiberhood topping its goal! That means 12 of the 14 greater Downtown fiberhoods have exceeded their goals and are assured of receiving Google Fiber.

Kansas Cities, Missouri and Kansas, are the first in the country to receive the 1-gigabit Google Fiber capabilities. The first-ever registration period began on July 26 and continues through Sunday, Sept. 9.

The Downtown Council is now focused on the two remaining Downtown KC fiberhoods — Quality Hill and Paseo West — with about 2 1/2 days left before the pre-registration deadline. We are hot on the tails of a handful of apartment buildings — including Jazz Hill and Perry Place in Paseo West and several in Quality Hill — that hold the potential to get those neighborhoods over the top.

If you have any additional insights or contacts to share in either fiberhood, please pass them on to Mike Hurd, director of marketing for the Downtown Council. Time is of the essence. To reach Mike, email him at mike@downtownkc.org.

Google deadline nears; 3 of 14 Downtown ‘fiberhoods’ short of goal

Three of the 14 Downtown “fiberhoods” are still short of their Google registration goals with just four days left in the seven-week drive.

Google began its registration drive in the Kansas Cities (MO and KS) on July 26. Google divided the many neighborhoods of both cities into “fiberhoods” and set  registration goals for each one. Residents of Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas are eligible to pre-register for access to the 1 gigabit fiber network that will bring them ultra high speed internet and television services.

Fiberhoods that meet their registration goals will be wired with the high speed fiber network. All bets are off for those fiberhoods that don’t meet their goals.

Greater Downtown KC was divided into 14 fiberhoods. So far, 11 have exceeded their goals, while three more — the Business District, Quality Hill and Paseo West — have yet to reach their goals. The drive is due to wrap up on Sunday, Sept. 9.

The Business District fiberhood has reached 95 percent of it goal — with 404 already registered and another 20 to go. Quality Hill has reached 59 percent of its goal — with 130 to go. Paseo West needs another 27 registrations.

Of course, Google Fiber delivers a great competitive advantage for Downtown residential properties, schools and other destinations. Conversely, it creates a competitive disadvantage for the fiberhoods that don’t make goal.

For more information on Google Fiber, two public events are set for this evening and Thursday evening at the Google Fiber Space at 1814 Westport Road.

  • TONIGHT — 6- 8 p.m. A Town Hall meeting is set for this evening to talk to owners and managers of apartment buildings and condominiums to answer questions and expedite registration of their units. Google is offering a 10 percent bulk registration discount for building owners to register all of their units at one time.
  • THURSDAY — 6-8 p.m. A registration fair is set for John’s Big Deck, 928 Wyandotte. Google personnel will be on hand to answer questions and to register residents, along with live music by Victor Gossage.

Please help us to spread the word to your friends, family, colleagues and social network pals who live in KCMO or KCK. And, particularly, those who live in the Business District, Quality Hill or Paseo West.

For more information, including a Google fiberhood map, visit www.google.com/fiber.

Downtown Council to Honor 5 Businesses

The Downtown Council (DTC) and its business retention committee, will honor five businesses for their commitment to Downtown Kansas City at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 28 at the new Lyric Opera headquarters.

The popular Quarterly Business Retention Receptions have gained even greater significance over the last two years, as the Downtown Council increases its emphasis on business retention and attraction

All DTC members are invited and encouraged to attend the summer cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m. at the Lyric Opera, 712 E. 18th Street. The receptions are free to DTC members.

The five summer honorees include:

The Lyric Opera
Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)
Hanna Rubber
Mission Peak
New Horizons

If you are unable to attend the reception, please send another representative in your place.

RSVP to Julie Shippy at jules@downtownkc.org or 816.421.1539.

KC Convention Bookings Run Strong at Year-end

December was a busy month for the convention business in Kansas City. A total of 46 conventions – a nearly 50 percent increase from last December – were booked in December 2011 by the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association. Collectively, these bookings will generate more than 85,000 room nights and bring an estimated economic impact of nearly $60 million to Kansas City, particularly to Downtown.

“We are excited to end the year on a high note,” said Rick Hughes, president & CEO of the KCCVA and an executive committee member of the Downtown Council. “As the industry adapts to securing bookings closer in, making top 10 lists like Frommer’s and Budget Travel keeps us in the national spotlight of go-to destinations. We’ve worked hard over the past several years on making our Downtown vibrant and thriving, and we are now enjoying the fruits of our labor.”

Among the major conventions booked last month was the biennial meeting for the American Baptist Churches of the USA, which will generate nearly 2,500 room nights with 3,000 attendees and an economic impact of more than $1.7 million.

Other major December bookings which were previously announced include the American Contract Bridge Championships. The competition will bring 4,000 attendees to KC, generating 10,000 room nights and create an economic impact of more than $5.3 million over the 10-day event.

“The impact these meetings have on Kansas City will be felt throughout the metropolitan area,” said Hughes. “The average convention attendee spends $208 per day during their stay, which brings much needed tax money from outside the city to help do things like pave our roads and fix our sewers.”

Thursday, October 28th: Five Businesses Recognized For Their Commitment to Downtown KC

Five businesses located in Downtown Kansas City will be recognized by the Downtown Council at a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, October 28th.

This quarterly recognition event is organized by the DTC’s Business Retention Committee and honors businesses for their ongoing commitment to Downtown Kansas City.

The businesses to be honored include:

The event, which will feature dramatic views of the Downtown skyline, is set for the Terrace on Grand , 1520 Grand Boulevard, 3rd floor.

To attend, please contact Julie Ochoa at the Downtown Council at 816-421-1539 or jules@downtownkc.org.