We could, and by all rights should, have another big weekend coming up in Downtown Kansas City. Fresh off the Big 12 Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Kansas City the week before last, we now have the Women’s NCAA Regionals. The winners of the four regional tournaments around the country will advance to the women’s Final Four, being contested April 4 and 6 in San Antonio.
Sprint Center will be the site of two games Sunday night — Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame and Nebraska vs. Kentucky. The winners will meet Tuesday night at Sprint Center in the regional finals.
Although a lot of people may not realize it, this is a big deal for Kansas City. Not only is it an opportunity for area residents to see some great basketball, but it gives our city another chance to demonstrate that we can compete with other major Midwestern cities when it comes to sports and conventions. The linchpin to our competitiveness, of course, is the Power & Light District.
Two weeks ago, when the Big 12 tournament was here, the district was awash with people. The bars and restaurants were jammed; the open-air, interior assembly area was jumping with live music; and people roamed the streets, especially Grand Boulevard, at least a block of which was blocked off to traffic to accommodate street hoops and other activities.
It was a wonderful and exciting thing to behold. Of course, it helped immensely that K.U. and K-State, the two biggest draws in the region, marched through the early rounds and faced off in the final game. Nevertheless, the turnout and the cut-it-loose atmosphere demonstrated the power and importance of the Power & Light District.
The Power & Light project, you’ll recall, was controversial before it was approved, because of its vast expense and scope and because it would displace several longstanding businesses and buildings. But Mayor Kay Barnes, who had come off as tentative in her first four-year term, boldly and resolutely pushed ahead, and the City Council ultimately approved a deal with the Cordish Company, of Baltimore, which had constructed similar districts in other cities.
Even now, some people complain that the city gave Cordish too sweet a deal, and certainly the district is going to have to be very successful over a number of years to handily pay off the debt that the city incurred. I’m not one of those complaining. I’m just thrilled we’ve got it, and all of us should be proud to go Downtown and see an area that has the potential to light up Kansas City and make it throb with action and transaction. Do you remember what an utter dump Downtown was? It was appalling. I recall being with Bill Grigsby (I think it was) one time and him pointing out the crumbling sidewalk outside the Muehlebach Hotel at 12th and Baltimore. And that was the centerpiece of Downtown!
And yet, I don’t know of many people who go to the district regularly, and I hear few people singing its praises. For many people, it’s just ho-hum, a nice trinket, but not a place that has special meaning. And, generally, they don’t go there.
Perhaps, as my wife Patty says, people see it as somewhat sterile and lacking in local and unique flavor. (That is true, I admit, and it is for their uniqueness that I will always cherish and support places like Westport and the Plaza.) And perhaps many area residents see the Power & Light District as primarily as an attraction for out-of-town visitors, and they succumb to that old Kansas City bugaboo of being “afraid” to go Downtown out of fear for their safety or concern that they won’t be able to find close-in parking at a reasonable rate.
Well, I don’t know the crime statistics, but, from personal experience, I’ve never had a problem Downtown in my 40-plus years here, and I don’t worry about it a bit. As for parking, I’ve always been a park-and-walker; if you’re patient and don’t mind trolling, you can usually find a place within a few blocks of Power & Light central. Also, there’s at least one multi-level garage on 13th, just off Grand, where you can park for $2 or $3.
So, this weekend, or some other time in the near future, I urge you to go Downtown and have some fun at the Power & Light District. It’s ours; we own it. And remember Petula Clark’s words:
“The lights are much brighter there; you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, so go Downtown. Things will be great when you’re Downtown. You’ll find a place for sure.”
P.S. An article in The Star on Friday, March 26, noted that the 2010-2011 city budget will push the taxpayer subsidy for the Power & Light District from $8 million to $12 million “because the Downtown entertainment district has not met financial projections.” Wow. That’s a lot of money that, ideally, could be going for road and bridge repair and replacement. Nevertheless, I stand by my belief that Power & Light was a virtual necessity, not just an optional upgrade.