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.

Don’t miss any Downtown news, sign up for our weekly CityScene KC email review here.

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.

LaunchKC opens 2018 grants competition today

Heather Spalding, CEO of Cambrian Tech, celebrates after learning that her startup company won the $100,000 grand prize at the 2017 LaunchKC competition in September. The application window opens on April 2 for the 2018 grants competition.

Let the competition begin!

LaunchKC, the fourth annual grants competition for tech entrepreneurs, opened the application window at 8 a.m. today (Monday, April 2), as the 100-day online window opens to innovators around the country.

LaunchKC ignited its 2018 promotional campaign in mid-March at SxSW Interactive in Austin, Texas. Drew Solomon, who chairs the Kansas City-based grants competition, made the announcement at Startup Night SxSW 2018, an event presented by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Tech.Co.

“In its first three grants competitions, LaunchKC awarded $1.5 million in grants to 29 entrepreneurs,” Solomon said. “More than 1,100 entrepreneurs from around the world have applied for grants in those first three competitions.”

LaunchKC is a civic engine in the Kansas City tech startup space. It is committed to elevating KC into one of the nation’s top 10 most livable, viable cities for entrepreneurs to be successful and to celebrate the community’s assets.

Competition Countdown for 2018

  • April 2 – Application window opens at www.launchkc.org
  • July 11 – Application window closes at midnight
  • July to September – Panel of expert judges to review applications and narrow list of contenders to 20 finalists by early September
  • Week of October 8-12 – LaunchKC finalists will be featured throughout the fourth Techweek Kansas City conference
  • October 12 – Selection of 10 grant recipients on LaunchKC Day during the final day of Techweek!

“We are searching for the best and brightest startups or early stage tech businesses to apply and compete for $500,000 in grants,” said Mike Hurd, marketing officer for the Downtown Council and LaunchKC. “We want to help these entrepreneurs make their business dreams come true in Kansas City.”

Of the 29 startup or early stage businesses to receive LaunchKC grants over the last three years, 26 of them – 90 percent – are still in business.

Grant Recipients

The active 26 startups include Big Bang, BlitabBlooom, Cambrian, ConsultUS, FEWDM, Forest Devices, H3 Enterprises, HealthID, HerdDoggIntegrated Roadways, Intelag, iShare Medical, Labor Chart, Mobility+Designed, MusicSpoke, MyCroft, PerfectCube, PlanITImpact, PopBookings, Sickweather, SquareOffs, Super Dispatch, TradeLanes, VideoFizz and Zitches.

LaunchKC Partners

LaunchKC is an initiative of the Downtown Council of Kansas City, Missouri, in collaboration with the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Missouri.

LaunchKC Sponsors

LaunchKC and its core group of sponsors – who have supported the competition since day #1 – including the Missouri Technology Corporation, along with the City of Kansas City, The Cordish Companies, J.E. Dunn Construction, Husch Blackwell, Kansas City Power & Light, the William T. Kemper Foundation, Lathrop Gage, Lead Bank, the Missouri Department of Economic Development, Polsinelli, Techweek and UMB Bank.

The competition is supported by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center, the Regnier Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurships, and the UMKC Bloch School of Management.

For more information, contact Mike Hurd, marketing officer for the Downtown Council and LaunchKC at mike@downtownkc.org or 816-447-2136.

Downtown CVS to close for remodeling on March 28

The Downtown CVS store and CVS Pharmacy will close for remodeling at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 28. The store is expected to reopen by mid-June.

The CVS store at 921 Main St. in Downtown Kansas City will close for remodeling at 6 p.m. (today) Wednesday, March 28. The store is expected to re-open in mid-June.

The temporary closure will impact the entire store, including the CVS Pharmacy, the only full-service pharmacy in Downtown. All prescriptions picked up at the Downtown CVS will be transferred to the CVS Pharmacy at 3902 Main St., according to Kurt Reis, store manager.

The CVS remodeling is part of the $139 million redevelopment of the historic Commerce Tower at 911 Main. The CVS, located immediately next door to the Commerce Tower entrance, has signed a new 20-year lease and plans a substantial upgrade, including removing the window covering on Main in order to make it more inviting to passersby.

Reis said the remodeling will produce a fresh and friendly look for the CVS. Changes to the store will include new shelves, new carpeting, an expanded pharmacy space, a revolving door at the store’s entrance, a new north-south layout of shopping aisles, a slight relocation of cash registers and new, clear front windows along Main Street.

Reis explained that the store’s product / grocery mix will not change significantly with the newly remodeled store. All of the store’s personnel will be reassigned to other, local CVS stores during the temporary closure.

Even though the store’s prescriptions will be transferred to the CVS at 39th & Main, Reis said customers may choose to transfer their prescriptions to another CVS location. For more information on prescriptions, customers should contact the CVS Pharmacy at 3902 Main at 816-931-5452. Kaydee Tran is the pharmacy manager and Jeff  Ozenberger is the store manager there.

“Thank you for your patience and for being a valued customer of CVS,” Reis said. “We look forward to seeing you in mid-June in our newly remodeled store.”

LaunchKC begins countdown for 2018 grants competition

Heather Spalding, CEO of Cambrian Tech, celebrates after learning that her startup company won the $100,000 grand prize at the 2017 LaunchKC competition in September. The application window opens on April 2 for the 2018 grants competition.

LaunchKC, the fourth annual grants competition for tech entrepreneurs, will begin its call for applications on Monday, April 2, as the 100-day online window opens to innovators around the country.

LaunchKC ignited its 2018 promotional campaign on Saturday at SxSW Interactive in Austin, Texas. Drew Solomon, who chairs the Kansas City-based grants competition, made the announcement at Startup Night SxSW 2018, an event presented by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Tech.Co.

“In its first three grants competitions, LaunchKC awarded $1.5 million in grants to 29 entrepreneurs,” Solomon said. “More than 1,100 entrepreneurs from around the world have applied for grants in those first three competitions.”

LaunchKC is a civic engine in the Kansas City tech startup space. It is committed to elevating KC into one of the nation’s top 10 most livable, viable cities for entrepreneurs to be successful and to celebrate the community’s assets.

Competition Countdown for 2018

  • March 10 – National call for entries at SxSW Interactive in Austin, Texas
  • April 2 – Application window opens at www.launchkc.org
  • July 11 – Application window closes at midnight
  • July to September – Panel of expert judges to review applications and narrow list of contenders to 20 finalists by early September
  • Week of October 8-12 – LaunchKC finalists will be featured throughout the fourth Techweek Kansas City conference
  • October 12 – Selection of 10 grant recipients on LaunchKC Day during the final day of Techweek!

“We are searching for the best and brightest startups or early stage tech businesses to apply and compete for $500,000 in grants,” said Mike Hurd, marketing officer for the Downtown Council and LaunchKC. “We want to help these entrepreneurs make their business dreams come true in Kansas City.”

Of the 29 startup or early stage businesses to receive LaunchKC grants over the last three years, 26 of them – 90 percent – are still in business.

Grant Recipients

The active 26 startups include Big Bang, BlitabBlooom, Cambrian, ConsultUS, FEWDM, Forest Devices, H3 Enterprises, HealthID, HerdDoggIntegrated Roadways, Intelag, iShare Medical, Labor Chart, Mobility+Designed, MusicSpoke, MyCroft, PerfectCube, PlanITImpact, PopBookings, Sickweather, SquareOffs, Super Dispatch, TradeLanes, VideoFizz and Zitches.

LaunchKC Partners

LaunchKC is an initiative of the Downtown Council of Kansas City, Missouri, in collaboration with the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Missouri.

LaunchKC Sponsors

LaunchKC and its core group of sponsors – who have supported the competition since day #1 – including the Missouri Technology Corporation, along with the City of Kansas City, The Cordish Companies, J.E. Dunn Construction, Husch Blackwell, Kansas City Power & Light, the William T. Kemper Foundation, Lathrop Gage, Lead Bank, the Missouri Department of Economic Development, Polsinelli, Techweek and UMB Bank.

The competition is supported by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center, the Regnier Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurships, and the UMKC Bloch School of Management.

For more information, contact Mike Hurd, marketing officer for the Downtown Council and LaunchKC at mike@downtownkc.org or 816-447-2136.

‘Beyond the Loop’ seeks to relieve Downtown freeway damage

Rendering of how a reconnected Independence Avenue could look in River Market. (Image from Beyond the Loop)

Beyond the Loop, a Downtown planning strategy for the future of the North Loop freeway, Buck O’Neil Bridge and Independence Avenue, is holding two public meetings this month to refine potential alternatives, according to Kevin Collison on CitySceneKC.com.

City and state officials have come up with a $200 million, long-term plan to build a new O’Neil (formerly Broadway) bridge that would directly connect 169 Highway and Interstate 35, and provide an exit to Downtown.

Moving forward with that replacement project is contingent on city voters renewing the 1 percent capital improvement tax in April.

The bridge project is listed as a short- and medium-term goal in a recent strategic infrastructure vision report prepared by the Downtown Council infrastructure and open spaces committee.

According to the committee, a new O’Neil bridge would better connect through traffic to I-35, be a more attractive gateway to downtown, resolve awkward traffic flow issues on Fifth and Sixth streets and improve access to the River Market and West Bottoms.

In the meantime, repairs to the O’Neil bridge are expected to begin in late spring. It will require the closing of southbound lanes, but northbound traffic will continue. The work is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

The future of the North Loop and Independence Avenue is less clear. The Beyond the Loop process has studied potentially narrowing of the North Loop freeway corridor, which separates the River Market from downtown, and possibly downgrading it to a boulevard.

Beyond the Loop also has considered a plan to lower the Missouri 9 highway embankment and reconnecting Independence Avenue, a move that would reunite the River Market with the Columbus Park neighborhood. The estimated cost of reconnecting the avenue is $54 million.

Last September, a national panel of Urban Land Institute experts recommended the Independence Avenue project be a priority.

As for the North Loop concepts, the ULI panel said those major investments would not be cost effective until at least 2028. The Downtown Council infrastructure committee however, considers improvements to the North Loop between the O’Neil and Kit Bond bridges to be a short- and long-term goal.

“Should this be a parkway, covered highway, traffic redirected to I-670 (South Loop) and closed for development, or just efficiency improvements by redesigning the access points?” asked the committee.

In a separate Downtown freeway study sponsored by the Downtown Council, engineers at HNTB have determined a four-block section of the South Loop could be decked with a park for an estimated $139 million. The 1960s era freeway separates Downtown from the Crossroads Arts District.

Open houses for the Beyond the Loop process are set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 21, at the Mid-America Regional Council offices at 600 Broadway, and 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 22 at iWerx, 1520 Clay St., North Kansas City. You can RSVP here.

Review displays, assessments of the refined alternatives and results of future traffic models will be at either open house. For more information contact Martin Rivarola at 816-474-4240.

To see more coverage of Downtown news, check out CitySceneKC.com early and often.

Hotel groundbreaking marks ‘new chapter in Downtown’

Kansas City’s long quest to build a Downtown convention hotel culminated Thursday on a sparkling morning at a formal groundbreaking by the construction site at 17th and Baltimore, reported Kevin Collison, editor of CitySceneKC.com.

More than 200 people celebrated the construction start of the 800-room Loews Kansas City Convention Center Hotel, a $322.7 million project that’s expected to be completed by late April 2020.

“We want this building to be part of the vibrant community you’ve spent generations creating in Kansas City,” said Jonathan Tisch, CEO and chairman of Loews Hotels. “The history of this project is legendary, so many men and women spent years to make sure this would happen.”

The Loews convention hotel will rise 24 stories from Baltimore. (Image from Cooper Carry architects)

It was 30 years ago that Texas billionaire Ross Perot Jr. first pursued a convention hotel project for the area where the new 24-story Loews is being built. The current effort led by attorney Mike Burke (pictured in the foreground of the photo above) began in 2011.

“There were were roadblocks, people saying you couldn’t do it,” said Mayor Sly James. “Every single time, Mike was there to help us get over the hump.”

Tisch also praised the mayor’s role in bringing the project to fruition. “Your leadership has been extraordinary,” he said. “You had a vision and didn’t let any hurdle get in your way.”

Work actually began a month ago at the 3-acre site which is across Wyandotte Street from the Bartle Hall Grand Ballroom. The American Hereford Association building has been demolished and a tower crane loomed above the white tent were the formal ceremony was held.

New York-based Loews is promising a four star-plus star hotel that will elevate the city’s opportunities to land large conventions.

“Kansas City is very much in our plans to grow in American cities with a bright future,” Tisch said. “If you look at our 75 year history, we’ve used our connections to the convention industry as a way to grow our business. We know who the groups are, how to serve them and they like doing business with Loews.”

The Shriners already have scheduled an convention for July 2020 that will draw 20,000 attendees.

“This is a really, really cool day,” James said. “It will mark a new chapter in Downtown Kansas City. For everyone who said it couldn’t happen, shouldn’t happen, you were wrong.”

To read the complete story, visit CitySceneKC.com.

 

City Council reaches understanding with KCI developer

The modern and uniquely Kansas City, Missouri, airport that voters approved in November is back on track to open in 2021, now that the City Council has approved an agreement with the developer selected to build the much-anticipated single terminal.

The council voted 8-5 on Thursday to approve the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Edgemoor Infrastructure. The City Council voted 9-4 in December to reject the initial proposal.The non-binding MOU will set the framework for upcoming negotiations on the final development agreement and related documents.

“I’m happy, relieved, and, most of all, excited that we can finally move on to the next phase of this project and give Kansas Citians the airport they want and deserve,” Mayor Sly James said. “This wasn’t always a pretty process, but at the end of the day, when city officials trust the democratic process and act to serve Kansas Citians, we move forward as a community. Now, it’s time to get to work on the next steps.”

Those next steps include Edgemoor and the Aviation Department working together to quickly establish a maximum guaranteed price for the project. The agreement limits the City’s liability and makes Edgemoor solely responsible for any cost overruns.

Another important step will be the environmental assessment that the FAA requires for such projects.

The new MOU addresses 43 of 45 points of concern the council brought to attorneys representing the city in negotiations with Edgemoor. The new version includes a revised $28.9 million community benefits agreement with money for child care and free busing for those working on the project.

The Nov. 7, 2017, election generated strong regional interest and about 75 percent of those casting ballots supported the project, which is expected to cost slightly more than $1 billion to complete.

“Kansas City voters sent a clear message to us last November that they wanted a world-class airport for our City, and they wanted it done in a manner that was transparent and that would make our city proud,” Third District City Councilmember Jermaine Reed said.

Fourth District Councilmember Jolie Justus said the vote would “show that Kansas City is open for business, innovation and partnership.”

The new terminal will be built on the site of Terminal A, which has been closed for several years due to airline mergers. Terminals B & C will continue to operate as usual.

City officials have specified that the new terminal must have certain features that keep and improve the existing convenience of the terminals at Kansas City International Airport.

Edgemoor’s preliminary design features a two-level curbside drop-off and pickup area which will be more convenient and less crowded for travelers. Also, waiting areas at each gate will have room for the increased number of passengers on today’s planes.

The requirements to build the terminal include:

  • Private financing for a 750,000 square foot terminal
  • A 6,500-spot parking garage
  • 35 gates (expandable to 42 gates)
  • A local workforce
  • Prevailing wages for construction workers
  • Assurance that the City’s MBE/WBE goals as well as workforce development or job training for local workers are met or exceeded
  • 1% of the cost dedicated to the arts

Financing for the new terminal will be paid back from airport revenues, and the City will continue to own and operate the airport.

For more information on the project, check out the NewKCI site on KCMO.gov.

 

State of Downtown introduces new platform of data reporting

The Downtown Council introduced its new online dashboard on Friday that illustrates the progress that Downtown has achieved in quality of life categories such as economy, housing, development and quality of life.

This is a moment of clarity and opportunity for Downtown Kansas City.

The KC urban core is riding a 15-year wave of growth and prosperity that is attracting residents, employers and talent, while unlocking opportunities and engaging private investment in Downtown. The momentum is gaining speed every day, as evidenced by more than $2 billion in new economic development projects – to date – that have begun along the Downtown streetcar line in just the last 2.5 years.

In the face of this urban propulsion, the Downtown Council (DTC) on Friday introduced a new platform – the State of Downtown – to report objective data that captures progress and trends, as well as distinguishes Downtown KC locally, regionally and nationally.

This marriage of clarity and opportunity has resulted in the release of the first State of Downtown report by the DTC, in cooperation with mySidewalk, an independent data clearinghouse in Kansas City. The inaugural report – drawn from objective data sources such as the U.S. Census – is available at www.downtownkc.org/data.

“Downtown Kansas City is experiencing an incredible boom,” said Bill Dietrich, President & CEO of the DTC. “With its highest population and growth rate since Kansas City’s population peak in 1970, investment and construction in Downtown infrastructure, housing and business is all increasing.

“When you add it together, Downtown has a youthful, diverse, growing population of high-wage earners in a growing economy in the most affordable, amenity-rich neighborhood in our region.”

A sampling of results from the initial State of Downtown indicates:

  • 41% of Downtown residents are Millennials (roughly, ages 20-36); a greater share of the population of Kansas City, Mo., or the metropolitan KC area
  • Downtown KC’s Millennial population is very comparable to our U.S. peer cities
  • 74% of all Downtown residents are younger than Baby Boomers (ages 53-71)
  • Downtown has the highest job density in the metropolitan area with more than 81,000 jobs, as of 2015. Given that, less than 1 percent of the city’s landmass generates 27 percent of its employment opportunities.
  • Employees in Downtown collectively earn more than $3.5 billion in total annual wages; in earning tax alone, that amounts to $35 million in revenue to the city annually

 

“Our work with continuously updated data provided through mySidewalk is designed to elevate the economic engine of Downtown, as well as to escalate the Downtown Council’s efforts to create a vibrant, diverse and economically sustainable community,” Nate Orr, Chair of the Downtown Council and Partner at Spencer Fane, told an audience of 1,000 Downtown stakeholders on Friday at the Kansas City Convention Center.

mySidewalk is a city intelligence tool that helps analysts extract data out of silos and into operational, strategic, and policy decisions. It provides the DTC with the tools necessary to capture accurate, objective data and to compare Kansas City with most of the major metropolitan area across the United States.

The resulting State of Downtown report aligns data for Downtown Kansas City with the downtowns of peer cities, including Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Louisville, Ky; Salt Lake City, Utah; and San Antonio, Texas.  The platform enables us to pull data from almost any city in America.

“The State of Downtown report features an online dashboard to illustrate the significant progress Downtown Kansas City has achieved in our economy, housing,  development and quality of life sectors,” Dietrich said.

Orr’s announcement not only reflects the dynamic forward progress that is palpable in Downtown Kansas City, but also that is underscored by data (a broad sampling of public and private data sources) data that is now available to the DTC through statistical data that track key indicators, answer questions about city progress, and create reports that drive awareness and action.

“What is great about these reports is that once designed they automatically update as new data becomes available,” Dietrich explained. “Plus, you can continuously add new data sources for richer reports.”

Context for the State of Downtown report

The first edition of the State of Downtown report offers numerous insights and findings about Downtown Kansas City – both in relationship for the metropolitan area, as well as to peer cities across the nation.

Dietrich shared some of the highlights, along with his conclusions:

KC is a young Downtown, but appeals to all ages

The big story of the recent decade is that Millennials continue to seek experiential living and Downtown Kansas City, MO provides that in abundance. We see that more than 40 percent of the population living in Downtown KC is Millennial (roughly, ages 20-36), but that Gen X (ages 37-52) and Baby Boomers (53-71) regularly choose to live Downtown as well.

Some 41 percent of Downtown KC residents are Millennials – greater than in peer downtowns of Cincinnati, Louisville and San Antonio, and trailing Charlotte and Salt Lake City.

Downtown KC is diverse

According to the U.S Census Bureau, Downtown  Kansas City, is one of the most diverse areas in the region with over 53% per capita of its population being an ethnically diverse cross section of African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and those of mixed ancestry. This adds to the vibrancy and resilience of our downtown culture spurring greater diversity in development, retail, and restaurants.

When compared to the greater Kansas City, MSA, Downtown Kansas City is almost twice as diverse. This healthy mix of unique individuals creates the rich cultural experience that drives the vibrancy and resilience of our Downtown.  This Downtown truly is everybody’s neighborhood.

Affordable: Percent of income spent on housing and transportation

Downtown KC provides the lowest percent of income spent on housing and transportation at 41.8 percent – compared to the City of Kansas City, MO at 49 percent and the Kansas City Metropolitan Statistical Area at 51 percent. Among peer cities, KC proved to be one of the more affordable downtowns.

Economy: Job density

Downtown Kansas City has the highest density of jobs in the region. The Central Business District, for example, has a job density of nearly 100 jobs per acre. However, taken as a whole, there is still room to add more jobs to Downtown. And, when compared to peer cities, Greater Downtown KC sets in the middle at 30 jobs per acre.

Downtown Kansas City is the economic center of the region. It has the highest job density in the metropolitan area with more than 80,000 jobs. Employees in Downtown work across a wide variety of occupations collectively earning more than $3.5 billion in total annual wages.

“The State of Downtown report is an effective platform for telling the Downtown Kansas City story with facts, figures and reliable data,” Dietrich said. “Downtown is a satisfying place to work, thanks in part to the incredible retail districts and amenities enjoyed by residents, workers, and visitors alike.

“It’s no exaggeration to say Downtown Kansas City is the economic hub of the region.”

 

 

City Manager shares insights on Three Light, Loews hotel

The Three Light apartment project (center) is planned for the northeast corner of Truman Road and Main Street. A potential Four Light tower is depicted in background.

Courtesy of Kevin Collison – CityScene KC

City Manager Troy Schulte led a Downtown advocacy group on a wide-ranging review last week that included big announcements and updates regarding several major projects.

In a follow-up interview, Schulte said he told the KC Downtowners that an ordinance for Three Light, the latest high-rise apartment project planned by the Cordish Co., was introduced to the Kansas City Council the following day.

He also said the bonds for the 800-room Loews Kansas City Convention Hotel project were sold last week, the last major step to finance the $322.7 million project. Schulte described the sale as “very successful.”

Preliminary construction began on Monday of this week. The 24-story project is going up on Wyandotte Street across from the Bartle Hall Grand Ballroom. Completion is expected in March 2020.

The 300-unit Three Light tower is planned for the northeast corner of Truman Road and Main Street. The site is currently a parking lot and located along the streetcar route.

Nick Benjamin, executive director for the Cordish-owned Power & Light District, said if the City Council approves, construction is expected to begin on the $130 million project late this year with completion anticipated in early 2021.

The plan is scheduled for a hearing by the Council Economic Development Committee today.

Schulte said the city is obligated under its 2004 master development agreement with Cordish to build the parking garage for Three Light, estimated cost $17.5 million.

That contribution is offset somewhat, he said, by Cordish taking over maintenance and operating costs at the Three Light garage, and existing garages beneath the Kansas City Live block and the so-called Cosentino garage. Schulte said that’s expected to save the city $600,000 annually.

The city manager also said Cordish has agreed to make a 50 percent PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, on the additional property value of Three Light to the Kansas City Public School District, the public library and other taxing jurisdictions.

A similar arrangement was reached with those entities on the Two Light project.

The Three Light announcement closely follows the recent completion of Two Light, a $120 million, 296-unit apartment project at Truman Road and Baltimore. The 24-story tower is immediately east of the Three Light project, and just began leasing its units.

The first Cordish tower, One Light, was completed in November 2015 and was quickly leased. That $80 million, 25-story project is located at 13th and Walnut and has 315 apartments. A potential ‘Four Light’ apartment tower also is contemplated.

The apartment projects are included in the landmark  agreement reached in 2004 between Cordish and the city that covered an approximately eight-block, mostly blighted area of downtown. It included construction of the Power & Light District which began opening 10 years ago.

In a related matter, Schulte told the Downtowners that H&R Block is teaming up with Copaken Brooks and Cordish to pursue a potential office tower project on the block southwest of 13th and Main.

Block 124 currently includes the Yard House and other Power & Light tenants, but at the time of construction, a foundation was built that could support a potential, second H&R Block building above.

Schulte said H&R Block’s development rights to the site were recently extended to 2020.

“We need quality, Class A office space in downtown that could be done a little on speculation,” Schulte said. “We need to bring more job space to downtown.”

Schulte also told the Downtowners that a study group led by Cordish has been examining the possibility of building a deck over Interstate 670, the South Loop, that would extend four blocks from Grand to Wyandotte.

The concept has been contemplated for years as a way to reconnect downtown proper with the Crossroads Arts District. The city manager said he expects recommendations to be forthcoming sometime this year.

Cordish’s Benjamin declined to comment about the potential office building project and the I-670 deck study.

Schulte said he would like to see a major strategic study undertaken to help the city prioritize its spending similar to the two Sasaki studies of the last decade.

Big-ticket proposals currently on the table include removing the North Loop freeway, replacing the Broadway bridge, lowering the Missouri 9 highway viaduct and reconnecting Independence Avenue, and the potential I-670 deck.

Finally, the city manager is hopeful that a revamped financing plan for building the proposed UMKC Downtown Conservatory will be produced at some point.

The $96 million project is proposed for south of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts at 17th and Broadway.

The ambitious plan, which would bring 700 students and faculty downtown, suffered a crippling blow last June when Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens vetoed $48 million in state funding that was to have matched private money raised for the conservatory.

“A local group is trying to put plans together to build it without any state funds,” Schulte said. “I’m optimistic it will eventually come forward and there may be an even bigger development on the site.”

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