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Archive for June, 2013

Are we excited about the latest prospect for downtown redevelopment?

We should be…If you’re not worked up already, I’ll try to get you in the mood to run out into the streets, yelling at the top of your voice.

The reason we need to bang all drums is that Julia Irene Kauffman, daughter of the late Muriel and Ewing Kauffman, is once again putting up big bucks to boost Kansas City.

Kauffman

Kauffman

Apparently not satisfied to let the awe-inspiring Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts stand as her only signature mark on Kansas City, the foundation that she heads and that bears her mother’s name is putting up a $20 million challenge grant to help move the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance to a site near the performing arts center.

If this comes to pass — and I definitely believe it will — it could make downtown Kansas City one of the nation’s top cities in terms of center-city artistic venues.

Don’t underestimate the impact of this move: It would be akin to the Unicorn Theatre catapulting to the level of the Missouri Rep, or the Missouri Mavericks hockey team (which plays in the 5,800-seat Independence Events Center) jumping to the National Hockey League. (Well, maybe not quite that big, but BIG, nevertheless.)

In 2011, The Star’s Kevin Collison wrote this: “Backers would expect the conservatory to achieve a top 10 ranking in the nation and attract 2,000 students within five years of opening the new campus.”

As it is, the conservatory has more than 700 students and staff and stages many public performances, at very reasonable admission prices, mostly at White Recital Hall, 4949 Cherry St., home of the Missouri Repertory Theatre.

Imagine more…and more elaborate…performances, still at reasonable prices, but downtown. That’s a key area where the public would benefit from this bold move.

In announcing the challenge grant on Wednesday — at the Kauffman Center, of course — Ms. Kauffman said:

“The conservatory is a vibrant community resource, and we believe the Downtown Arts Campus project has the potential to bring excitement and broad revitalized economic development to downtown, to the Kauffman Center and to other arts groups located downtown.”

Reporting on Ms. Kauffman’s announcement, Collison said two possible sites were under consideration. One is east of the Kauffman Center and covers two blocks from Wyandotte to Main, between 16th and 17th streets. The other includes sections of the blocks at the northwest and southeast corners of 17th and Broadway. The Kauffman Center is positioned right between those two sites.

julia

As for the financing, here’s how that would work, as best I understand it.

It’s an $85 million to $90 million project. About half would come from the state, although the Missouri General Assembly has not yet allocated funds. The rest — another $40 million to $45 million — would be raised privately. With the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation putting up $20 million, that would mean private contributions of $20 million (the matching part) would make the project viable.

The corporate community can be expected to greet the challenge grant eagerly. The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce has been gung ho on the project for more than two years, having included it in its 2011 “Big 5” wish list for Kansas City. Other “Big 5”  ideas include making Kansas City the nation’s most entrepreneurial city and significantly upgrading the inner city.

It’s safe to say that, among the five big ideas, moving the UMKC conservatory downtown is far and away the leader in the clubhouse.

This is a project that, if sold correctly, could attract a lot of money from people of average means, as well as from the usual, deep-pocketed corporate leaders.

Just tell me where to send the check.

OK, now, get out into the streets and start whooping and hollering, as if the Royals had just won the pennant.

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The Kansas City Star put us on warning yesterday: Obamacare is just around the corner.

It’s the biggest unknown domestic program that the government has sent our way in decades.

So, how are you feeling? Anxious, fearful, disgusted, hopeful, excited? However you feel, it’s time to start preparing. Personally, I am hopeful and excited. Here’s why. For  the last three years, our 25-year-old daughter Brooks has suffered from anorexia nervosa.

She has been in and out of treatment facilities and transitional living places. Blue Cross Blue Shield of KC has covered perhaps $200,000 in medical bills, and Patty and I have shelled out perhaps $50,000 for uncovered bills and housing. (There was one bill alone for $17,250, which I appealed to the state insurance division but lost.)

Brooks and our 23-year-old son Charlie, who’s healthy as a horse, are on my individual plan — which is a supplement to my Medicare coverage.

The problem is, as most of you probably know, after Brooks turns 26 next St. Patrick’s Day, she can no longer be on my plan; she will be on her own.

Naturally, that is worrisome. As things stand now, without the Affordable Care Act, Brooks undoubtedly would have great difficulty getting medical insurance because of her costly “pre-existing condition.” If she did find an insurer that would take her, I’m sure it would be very, very expensive.

A Huffington Post article in March said that because the Affordable Care Act outlaws discriminating against anyone with a pre-existing or chronic condition, as of January 1 next year, “no one can be turned away by plans in the marketplace or charged more because they’re in poorer health…And every health insurance plan in the Marketplace will cover a standard set of essential health benefits that includes, among other benefits, hospital stays, prescription drug coverage, preventive services, oral and vision care for kids.”

So, just as Brooks is about to fall off of my plan, it appears that Obama and the ACA are riding in to the rescue…At least, that’s the way I hope, and foresee, it coming about.

The Star’s story, by medical writer Alan Bavley and business writer Diane Stafford, noted that yesterday, June 23, was the 100-day mark (Oct. 1) “when uninsured people can begin applying for health insurance and premium subsidies through the law’s new state and federal marketplaces.”

The story said that the goal was to reach the estimated 30 million Americans who qualify for enrollment through the marketplaces. If all goes according to plan, people like Brooks should be able to go online, compare plans and prices (hopefully there will be at least two plans in any given jurisdiction) and sign up. Coverage starts Jan. 1, but enrollment will continue through March 31.

Meanwhile the government is mobilizing to educate U.S. residents about the program. Much of the heavy lifting must be done by the Department of Health and Human Services. Among other things, the department is set to announce a redesign of its HealthCare.gov website, and in August it is supposed to announce which insurance plans will be offered in each state and the various rates.

One reason I think this is going to go better than many people believe is that I have a lot of confidence in Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Yes, she probably should not have approached health industry officials, asking for financial contributions to help with the effort to implement the ACA, but that seems to have blown over. And, besides, she did so only after Congress repeatedly rejected the Obama administration’s requests for start-up funds.

To me, Sebelius has always been a serious-minded, effective public servant. She’s energetic, authentic and not looking ahead, in my opinion, to her next professional or political position. I think she’s committed to getting Obamacare off to a good start, and I think she will handle the inevitable glitches professionally and even-handedly.

…Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I am counting on relatively smooth implementation of the Affordable Care Act, until and unless I see it not happening.

And that, unfortunately, is what a lot of Obama haters want — a big disaster — so they can say, “I told you so.”

If the program succeeds, as I expect it to, it’s going to further marginalize politicians like Senator Mitch McConnell and representatives John Boehner and Paul Ryan.

It’s not the Democrats who need to be worrying now; it’s the Republicans.

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When we cheer our new, much-improved downtown — as we have every right to do — we cannot do so unreservedly.

We already knew that because taxpayer dollars are underwriting the Power & Light District to the tune of about $10 million a year, and that number apparently is headed higher before it will come back down and finally go away.

But The Star’s Kevin Collison reinforced the reservations about downtown redevelopment on Sunday with a close look at the dramatic loss of jobs and the sharp upswing in vacant office space downtown.

Collison’s A1 story said that while attractions like the P&L District and the Sprint and Kauffman centers have prompted “more people to live and play downtown,” it’s a different story on the business front. “U.S. Census data shows that from 2001 to 2011…greater downtown lost 19.6 perrcent of its private employees,” Collison reported. “That’s 16,237 fewer private jobs.”

Reflecting the decline in jobs, Collison continued, the vacancy rate for Class A and B office space stood at 27 percent in the first quarter of 2013, compared to 19 percent for the same quarter 10 years ago.

Those are striking statistics, I’m sure you’ll agree. Collison said part of the problem is that downtown has lost employees and businesses to the Kansas suburbs and to the Country Club Plaza. To see the impending impact of the Plaza, all you have to do is look at the Plaza Vista project that is coming together on the Plaza’s west side. That will be the new Kansas City area home of the Polsinelli law firm, which currently has big presences on the Plaza and downtown.

Collison quoted one developer, Tim Schaffer of RED Brokerage, as saying that despite the high vacancy rate, downtown needs more modern office space.

Some of the highest vacancy rates are in some of the oldest buildings, including One Kansas City Place, Town Pavilion and City Center Square, all of which were built in the 1970s and 1980s. In other words, it’s kind of like our airport situation: We’ve got an airport that is convenient and manageable, but it is not appealing to many users, to the airlines and to the government, which has to provide an overabundance of security employees because of the dated three-terminal set-up.

Just as with the airport, we need to kick into high gear on new or rehabbed downtown office buildings. It’s going to require some developers to stick their necks out and bet on the future of downtown.

I’m betting on it…but, then, that’s easy for me to say because I’m not putting any money on the table.

Nevertheless, here’s the main reason I’m betting on it. Collison quoted Bill Dietrich, president of the Downtown Council, as saying…

“We are trying to change attitudes that have developed over 30-plus years…But the enhancements in downtown have saved downtown. It would have been a lost cause and we’re poised to recover.”

p&lHe’s absolutely right. Think of what downtown would be like if we still had the nasty bars on 12th and Main streets, the windowless massage parlors on 14th and the crumbling sidewalks on Baltimore at 12th. Think of what downtown would be like without the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Sprint Center, the Power & Light District and the new H&R Bloch building.

Without those changes, there is no way we could lay claim to being “a great city.” We would be bathed in shame and ignominy. We would be an apple rotting from the inside out…I, for one, would have been tempted to bail to another midwestern city that was on the move, like Denver or Indianapolis. (I don’t know if I could have talked Patty into it, but I believe I would have given it a major effort.)

But with the Sprint Center packing people in for concerts and basketball tournaments; the Kauffman Center filling up for symphony and opera performances; and the P&L bars, restaurants and stores serving up energy and excitement, we are in pretty good shape; we can take a lot of pride in our transformed downtown.

We just need a young version of Larry Bridges, or a few people like him. Remember? Bridges’ goal was simple: All he wanted to do was build tall buildings. It helped, of course, that he had the late Frank Morgan’s money behind him.

So, it’s not like snapping your fingers. We need people with money…people with money and vision. Then, we would really take off.

Oh, and give me that new airport terminal, too.

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Here’s a truism from Newspaper Reading 101….from which I took a “withdrew passing” grade:

If you read the paper with a close eye and an open mind, you will almost always stumble upon something that sticks with you, at least for a day or two.

Reading the paper the last few days — with no agenda and no axe to grind — I have culled the following odds and ends, which struck a chord with me. See if you agree.

:: Headline at the top of Tuesday’s sports page: “The Royals’ joy of six.”

The “joy of six” headline — a play on the 1972 book “The Joy of Sex” — is the most overworked headline in journalism, seen primarily on the sports pages.

The morning after the Chicago Bulls won their sixth NBA championship (1998), the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, MN, used that headline in letters that covered about half of the sports front. I was at the newspaper’s offices at the time for a conference, and even the newspaper’s editor at the time, Walker Lundy, was aghast. “Could you have made the headline any bigger,” Lundy sarcastically asked the sports editor at the morning news meeting.

:: Notable quote: “Somebody once asked me if our officers have a quota they have to meet regarding tickets. And I told them no, they can write as many as they like.”

That from Police Chief John Simmons of Mission, KS, where ticket writing pays for a lot of the city’s bills.

:: Patty, Brooks and I were at the Royals game on Sunday afternoon, when Patty pointed to I-70 and said, “I wonder why the traffic is backed up on the interstate?”

Frame from YouTube video

Frame from YouTube video

The lady is observant — could have been a reporter, but she comes from a line of entrepreneurs (thank God).

In Wednesday’s paper, police reporter Christine Vendel reported the whole thing. A group of about 40 motorcyclists blocked traffic while videotaping each other performing various stunts. One biker was arrested after he crashed into the back of a police car on U.S. 40, while the officer was trying to pull over a truck containing several people who were recording the stunts.

Those bikers rank very high in the “lacking grey cells” category, and some of them undoubtedly are going to lose all their grey cells when they fly out of the saddle.

:: “Wreck leads to fatal shots” — Page A7 headline in Tuesday’s paper

OK, I want to know more about that…Tell me what happened?

A minor wreck in which a moving car struck a parked car occurred Saturday night on Kansas City’s East side. On one of the streets, either College Avenue or 58th Terrace, two large outdoor parties were taking place. The driver of the car that struck the parked car was related to one of the two men who were subsequently shot to death.

Got it. So what happened after the wreck? Well, this quote from Police Capt. Tye Grant says about all we need to know:

“Things went downhill from there.”

:: Those baseball guys love to tag nicknames on each other. The Royals’ first-round draft choice, a 6 foot, 4 inch shortstop named Hunter Dozier, was at Kauffman Stadium for Monday night’s game against the Detroit Tigers and got to meet the Royals players and coaches. 

In the course of the day and evening, somebody tagged him “Bull”…as in Bull Dozier. Now that’s a nickname.

:: Kevin Collison, The Star’s outstanding development reporter, wrote in Tuesday’s Star Business Weekly about the controversial proposal to build a new $1.2 billion terminal at KCI.

As you know, I firmly believe we need a new terminal, if for no other reason than we deserve a lot better than what we’ve got with those three enormous funeral parlors grouped together off I-29.

Collison

Collison

Amid the hysterical war of words taking place on this issue (see “Letters to the Editor), Collison called for “a clear-eyed, thoughtful discussion about the future of KCI.”

“The answer,” he said, “is probably somewhere between the Aviation Department’s billion-dollar vision and the knee-jerk, populist reaction of the current ‘Save KCI’ petition drive.”

I’m willing to take a deep breath and consider that.

(By the way, because of the issue’s importance and the amount of money involved, hysteria might be the appropriate tone for this conversation…My late father, quoting from some philosopher or wiseacre, used to tell me, “If you can keep your head while everyone around you is losing theirs, you probably don’t understand the issue.”)

:: When a reporter or columnist gets “hot,” he or she often becomes the rage, and you start seeing their stuff everywhere.

And so it is with David Carr, The New York Times media columnist, who has been smoking hot the last few years. He even was the focus of a 2011 documentary movie, “Page One: Inside The New York Times.”

David Carr

David Carr

But no columnist can hit it out of the park every week. Carr’s most recent column, which The Star picked up on Tuesday, was a goofy piece about two Hollywood gossip columnists — Nikki Finke and Sharon Waxman — who have been flailing away at each other on their respective Web sites. (The battle kind of reminds me of my days on active duty in the Army Reserve, when we would go at each other with padded “pugil sticks.”)

Here’s my point: There can’t be more than a couple of hundred people in KC who know or care about the Finke-Waxman face-off. So, why is it in The Star? And, why, even, was it on the front page of Monday’s New York Times business section?

It was in The Times because Carr is Carr, and he can write about whatever he wants, and The Times will run it in his usual spot — on the front page of the Monday business section.

The Star picked it up because…well, a big, fat hole was sitting there on the “Business Forum” page of Tuesday’s business section, and something had to fill it. So, why not the red-hot David Carr?

***

Editor’s Note: This is my 300th post since starting JimmyCsays in March 2010. It’s been a great run of three years and three months. Thanks for your patronage. I hope to remain “At the juncture of journalism and daily life in Kansas City” for at least 3 1/4 more years. 

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Hey, Brother, I’ve got a favor to ask…a few, actually:

Would you stop lying to us about attacks on our embassies? Would you start telling us exactly who you are killing with these drone strikes? Would you stop harassing nonprofit organizations whose names you don’t like? Would you stop seizing the telephone records of reporters? Come to think of it, would  you stop scooping up records of all telephone calls made in the United States?

Holy shit! What the fuck? (Sorry, this is a situation, it seems to me, that calls for extreme language.)

In a May 23 post, I said, half facetiously that I was shocked and appalled at “the imploding presidency of Barack Obama.”

No longer is it half facetious; I’m completely shocked and thoroughly appalled.

Even though this all-inclusive phone-call sweep has been going on, incredibly, for seven years — before Obama became president — wouldn’t you think that a president who values civil liberties would look at that and say:

“Why are we doing this?”

I’m a lifelong Democrat, but this is a case in which I think it’s appropriate to ask, “What Ronnie do?” I’m talking about the late President Ronald Reagan, who, above all else, was a champion of civil liberties, of American being a nation where you should be able to live without government poking around in your private life.

I can’t help but think that if he were alive and Alzheimer’s free, he would look at the current government wasteland and say, “What the fuck?”

Yesterday, when I first heard about the general, phone-call-records sweep, I thought maybe my gut reaction of repulsion was an overreaction. I’d better wait, I thought, to see what my reliable political compass, The New York Times, had to say.

Thankfully, The Times affirmed my revulsion. The leading editorial in today’s Times is titled “President Obama’s Dragnet.” It is twice as long as the average editorial, and it is so strong that it appears to me it could signal an overall shift against the Obama administration.

Here’s how that editorial begins:

“Within hours of the disclosure that federal authorities routinely collect data on phone calls Americans make, regardless of whether they have any bearing on a counterterrorism investigation, the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights.

“Those reassurances have never been persuasive — whether on secret warrants to scoop up a news agency’s phone records or secret orders to kill an American suspected of terrorism — especially coming from a president who once promised transparency and accountability.”

The editorial goes on to finger the Patriot Act, enacted during the Bush administration, as the basis of the last two administrations’ overreach into Americans’ lives. The Times has long railed against the Patriot Act (what a misnomer, huh?), which, today’s editorial says, “was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.”
Still, it falls, as it should, at the feet of the Commander in Chief. He knows what’s going on…So why doesn’t he use some common sense? Examine some of this stuff and say, “This doesn’t add up. Why are we doing this? Isn’t it an unnecessary and unwarranted intrusion in?”
Should this nitwit know who we are calling?

Should this nitwit know who we are calling?

If we can’t rely on the President, who can we rely on? Certainly not that clown James Clapper, the national’s chief intelligence officer, who three months ago told a congressional committee that the National Security Agency was not collecting data on Americans.

Here’s how that exchange went with Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat:
Wyden: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
Clapper: “No, sir.”
Wyden: “It does not?”
Clapper: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect—but not wittingly.” 
My first reaction to that is that anyone who uses the term “wittingly” should not be in any position of authority. That’s someone who’s overly impressed with himself and likes to slice and dice words, instead of being straightforward and telling the truth.
Second, the person is a nitwit. Unfortunately, I’m starting to think that Clapper is one of many nitwits in top government positions, perhaps including the Oval Office.

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It’s been a while since I brought you one of my world-famous photo blogs.

As most of you know, I’m a dedicated urbanite, and usually I bring you photos from cities, such as Denver or  Berkeley/Oakland.

But last week, Patty suggested we go out into the Flint Hills for some exploring and relaxation. Great idea, said I, and off we went on Saturday to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, west of Emporia. The preserve is owned by The Nature Conservancy and managed by the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy. A Park Service staff member described the preserve as “one of the last places in the world where it’s still quiet.”

Amen.

In addition to walking several of the trails in the preserve, we moseyed around the nearby towns of Cottonwood Falls (Pop. 901) and Strong City (Pop. 543).

Long ago, the towns, which are about two miles apart, were connected by a trolley car, which ran straight up Broadway in Cottonwood Falls and ended right in front of the Chase County Courthouse, the oldest operating courthouse in Kansas (early 1870s).

Here’s some of what we saw. I strongly recommend this trip. We spent two days there, although it could be done in one, if you pushed it.

P1020564

The ranch house on the Preserve, formerly the Z-bar Ranch. The house was built in 1881 for cattleman Stephen F. Jones.

P1020565

The landscape wasn’t the only beauty in the area.

P1020568

From the Gateway to the West, Patty looks for signs of life.

Oh, oh. Somebody call the sheriff!

Oh, oh. Somebody call the sheriff!

One of many spectacular scenes.

One of many great views.

One-room schoolhouse, which operated from 1884 to 1930.

One-room schoolhouse, which operated from 1884 to 1930.

The desks are not original, but you get the idea.

The desks are not original, but the bench at front left is.

Towns in Chase County, then and now.

Towns in Chase County, then and now.

Chase County Courthouse

Chase County Courthouse

County Commission meeting room

County Commission meeting room

Another interior view

Another interior view

Bird's eye view, from third floor of courthouse.

Bird’s eye view, from third floor of courthouse.

Sassy, the tour dog.

Sassy, the tour dog.

The Emma Chase Cafe on "the strip."

The Emma Chase Cafe on “the strip.” Quaint but not very good. How can a small-town diner screw up liver and onions and fried chicken?

House advice at the Emma Chase.

House advice at the Emma Chase (although the pie isn’t that good either).

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