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Archive for November, 2014

I have a love/hate relationship with billboards.

Before 2013, I had no use for them whatsoever, but, I began to see their value when I headed a campaign committee that worked against Jackson County’s proposed half-cent sales-tax increase for medical research. We stopped the proposal dead in its tracks — 84 percent “no” to 16 percent “yes” — and I attribute the margin partly to four billboards my “Stop a Bad Cure” campaign committee purchased around the county.

Then, earlier this year, a campaign committee I was working with bought — at my suggestion — a $2,500 billboard on Noland Road to attack the state’s proposed one-cent sales tax for transportation projects. We won handily — 54 percent to 46 percent — and, again, I believe that billboard got our side a lot of votes. On the west side of Noland Road, north of I-70 and across from Truman High School, it gets about 90,000 “impressions” a week.

In general, though, billboards are an eyesore, and it’s hard to root for maintaining billboards that stand in the way of progress.

And that’s just the type of battle currently being waged over a very large billboard on the north end of the Main Street viaduct, at 20th Street.

Maybe you read Lynn Horsley’s front-page story about the issue in today’s KC Star.

The city has moved to condemn the billboard — contending that the area is “blighted” — to make way for a $19 million hotel at the entrance to the booming Crossroads district. but Lamar outdoor advertising has sued to try to stop the removal.

For obvious reasons, Lamar wants to keep the board. I say obvious because when you are headed north on Main Street as you approach 20th Street, the big board looms right in front of you. You can’t miss it, and there are no other billboards in the area. Like the billboard I have bought twice now on Noland Road, it commands a captive audience. Plus, it’s a two-sided board, and I would bet it gets 150,000 to 200,000 total impressions a week.

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Looking north, from the Main Street viaduct, where the ramp to Walnut Street veers off to the east. The city is planning to remove the ramp, which is closed.

The Lamar vs. Kansas City case has now gone to trial in Jackson County Circuit Court, and testimony began last Friday.

As Horsley reported, condemnation would clear the way for Sunflower Development Group to build a 5-story, 110-room hotel, which would operate as the first Hilton Home2Suites property in the area.

Jim Bowers, a formidable land-use attorney who is representing Lamar, contends that the $19 million hotel and the billboard could peacefully coexist…Well, yeah, I guess there’s a way the hotel could be built without taking down the billboard, but obviously the hotel operators want their sign, brandishing the Hilton flag, to be the prominent image at the intersection, not a big ad for Sprint or some other company.

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Looking south, from near the parking lot where the hotel presumably would be built. The former Western Auto building is off to the left.

**

I took a good look at the area today, and I would think the city has a good chance to get the “blight” declaration. For one thing, the area directly below the billboard is a parking lot, situated between Main and Walnut. Also, immediately north of the billboard is the vacant lot that was the home of the Hereford House before co-owner Rod Anderson hired a couple of guys to torch it in 2008. (Anderson and the two arsonists were convicted. He got a 15-year-sentence, as did one of the arsonists. The other arsonist got a 20-year term.)

As I looked at that site, the signs of progress and potential were all around. Two sets of streetcar tracks — one for southbound cars and one for northbound cars — are being laid on the east and west sides of the thoroughfare, and the streetcar’s southern terminus, Union Station, is about two blocks away, at Pershing Road. Just south of there, of course, is the Liberty Memorial and Crown Center.

It’s easy to envision thousands of people — many of them tourists and some of them staying at the HiltonHome2Suites — riding up and down Main Street and going to various attractions, including Union Station, the Liberty Memorial, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Sprint Center and the Power & Light District.

This is what former Mayor Kay Barnes envisioned when she pushed for what she called a “Downtown-Crown-Plaza” corridor of attractions and activity. At the time, I thought it was a bit silly, but with the passage of time, the picture has become increasingly clear.

So, let’s hope that after testimony is completed in Circuit Court, Judge Margene Burnett rules that the city can go ahead and tear down the big board that impedes the view, not only of specific buildings, but also of progress in the heart of our city.

 

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