Archive for August, 2015

Our gung-ho, “we’re-ready-to-rock-and-roll” mayor has just embarked on a thoroughly delusional journey. His backpack is loaded with peanut butter crackers and granola bars, and he’s ready to stay out in the wilderness for months, it appears.

Yesterday, city officials acknowledged for the first time — although they knew it weeks ago — that the company manufacturing the streetcars to run between the River Market and Union Station is running significantly behind schedule.

Initially, the first car was to be delivered in June. Then it was late September and now it’s the end of the year.

To which, Mayor Sly James proclaimed: “It is not acceptable to be late. We’re ready to rock and roll.”

The problem is you can’t start a party without a band, a disc jockey or somebody spinning records in the garage.

No music, no party…By the same token, no streetcars, no trips up and down Main Street.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m a fan of the streetcar line, and I think it’s going to generate additional energy and excitement downtown and be good for tourists and residents alike. For months, I’ve been watching progress on the installation of the rails, and that part is essentially done. The next big element is the overhead power lines. A tremendous amount of street repaving also needs to be done.

James has been pointing to an arbitrary opening date: mid-March, when the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament begins.

He’s still hoping for that, but it isn’t going to happen. In fact, I will be surprised if one streetcar is carrying passengers by late next year.

Construction of Kansas City’s four streetcars was begun in Spain, and final assembly will be done in Elmira, NY, in part, The Kansas City Star reported today, “to comply with buy-American requirements attached to federal grants for streetcar projects.”

But streetcar production is just one of several areas in which big problems and delays could develop.

Another is that each vehicle must be tested for 300 miles along the route. That alone is probably going to take several months. Remember, it’s four cars, 300 miles each.

Plus, transportation engineers have to figure out and precisely plot how streetcars, vehicular traffic and pedestrians are going to intermingle safely up and down Main Street. You can’t just plop those cars on the rails, yell “all aboard” and turn on the juice. Safety is a huge consideration that won’t take care of itself.

It’s reasonable to expect some of the problems that Washington D.C., has experienced in its effort of several years to get two streetcar lines going. One of the lines, a 2.2-mile run along “H” Street was supposed to have started operating more than a year ago. But it’s still mired in test runs.

Reporter Michael Laris of The Washington Post wrote last October that during test runs “the first cars on the city’s inaugural line, running east of Union Station, have snarled traffic and been in two minor accidents.”

dc car

On a test run last October, a Washington D.C. streetcar stopped in traffic near the intersection of H Street and 3rd Street NE. (Washington Post photo.)

A month later, Laris quoted a City Council member as saying, “The main thing the H Street streetcar line has done is found a way to turn a lot of people against the streetcar who otherwise could have been for it.” 

So, when James says delay is unacceptable, he’s like a first-time flute player trying to get a sound out of the instrument, other than rushing air.

Streetcar and light-rail projects almost invariably cost more than budgeted and aren’t done when they’re supposed to be.

At this point, the best thing we can hope for is that the $100 million budget for our two-mile system doesn’t become $150 million or $200 million. In that context, a delay of several months is nothing to whine about.

But Sly has set the tone: It’s going to be the blame game from now until the streetcars are carrying live passengers. He’s going to spout and fume and grunt about how unacceptable the delay is.

You know why he’s unwilling to accept delay like a rational adult, don’t you? Right, because if he doesn’t point the finger at someone else, then it all falls back on him. And that’s what’s really unacceptable.

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It might have been a while since some of you have driven around the Crossroads area and taken a close look at what’s there and some of the things that are coming.

I worked out of the The Star’s 18th and Grand building for 36-plus years, and, I can tell you the neighborhood was long run down — home, primarily, to auto repair places, auto salvage operations, warehouses and a handful of C-minus bars and restaurants.

It’s much different now, of course. The Star is now surrounded, within a few blocks in any direction, by renovated buildings and an array of businesses.  The Crossroads’ website describes the area as “an eclectic enclave of boutique shops, one-of-a-kind restaurants, creative businesses, studios and art galleries.”

The Crossroads’ official boundaries are Troost on the east, I-35 on the west, 22nd Street on the south and Truman Road on the north. For all practical purposes, however, the hub is between Broadway and Locust, from 16th to 22nd streets.

On “First Fridays,” the central part of the Crossroads is jammed with foot traffic, and parking is a mess for blocks around.  The next First Friday is two days away. Today I went down there and took some photos, which, I think, capture the feel and look of the Crossroads, which has evolved, with little investment of public dollars, into one of Kansas City’s great success stories.

Here you go…


The Freight House, built in 1887 by the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, was one of the first buildings to be restored. And Lidia’s was one of the first occupants.


YJ’s coffee shop at 18th and Wyandotte was another early arrival.


The Art of Pizza, on the southeast corner of 18th and Baltimore, was home to Kenneth Smith Golf clubs when I came to town in 1969.


Up-Down, an arcade and bar at Southwest Boulevard and Baltimore, seems to draw nice crowds.


The Brick, a popular bar on McGee just north of 18th, was for many years The Pub, owned by Jimmy and Joe Spinello. It was the go-to lunch and drinking place for many KC Star employees. Now, it’s geared to the younger set.


This building, north of The Brick and across McGee from The Star (far right corner), used to house The Star’s circulation department. It has been renovated and subdivided into a variety of operations, including Screenland Theatre.

20th and mcgee

Here’s a 1927 photo of McGee Street, looking south from the northeast corner of 20th and McGee.


Here’s a shot from the same vantage point today. That’s the Western Auto building behind the two story building, and I’m not even sure that the two-story building is the same building as the one in the foreground of the 1927 photo. (The building in the ’27 photo is three stories, where this one is two.)

1820 oak

Here’s another old photo, (1951) from the Missouri Valley Special collections, of an auto parts store at 1820 Oak. It’s now a parking lot. In the background is the old City National Bank (later Republic Bank) on the southeast corner of 18th and Grand.


Apartments and a small retain space are going in on the west side of Main, south of 19th.


North of the apartment development is the two-story building where the late political boss Tom Pendergast had his office. He was on the second floor.


A combination Residence Inn and Courtyard by Marriott is going up at 16th and Baltimore. The grassy foreground is where KC’ new convention hotel is to be built.


Grinders, between Oak and Locust on 18th Street, is an eastern anchor of the Crossroads. To the left of the Grinders’ “east” is a coffee shop and bar called Thou Mayest.


Thou Mayest.




Another sign of progress: The rails are down on Main, just north of Union Station, where the new streetcar line will end. The line is scheduled to start operating next year.


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