It being close to year’s end, I could do one of those “Highlights/Memorable Moments/Top Stories of 2017” blog posts.
But I’ve got another idea. How about a “State of the City” report?
Huh? Huh? HUH? Yes, I knew you’d like that!
What got me thinking along those lines was an exchange of emails yesterday with a former KC Star reporter, Repps Hudson, who left here many years ago and spent most of his career in St. Louis. His last position was business reporter and columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He’s been retired from the P-D nearly 10 years, about as long as I’ve been retired from The Star.
In our email exchange, my friend raised the comparison between St. Louis and Kansas City, and his seminal line was this:
“It (Kansas City) has improved sooo much. St. Louis is divided and stuck, but KC is rollin’ along.”
That was really good to hear, especially coming from a person who has lived in both cities and has a good frame of reference…Now, I’m not happy in any way to hear his assessment that St. Louis is divided (racially, he suggested) and “stuck.” I like St. Louis a lot, but I have gotten the impression in my trips over there that it’s not making the kind of strides Kansas City has made.
In one of my messages, I likened Kansas City’s progress the last 10 years to creation of a three-legged stool — the perfect stool, of course, because a three-legged stool doesn’t rock.
Former Mayor Kay Barnes (1999-2007) gets much of the credit for constructing this stool because she was responsible for two of the three legs.
Kansas City’s resurgence — and I mean the resurgence of the whole city because a city can’t be strong without a solid core — started with construction of the Sprint Center. Before Sprint Center, we had tired old Municipal Auditorium, which, although a beautiful example of the Art Deco style, dated to the Pendergast era.
Sprint Center opened in 2007. Before it opened, work began on improving downtown streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure. I remember walking around downtown with the late Bill Grigsby, probably in 1980s, with him bitterly pointing out crumbling sidewalks outside the Hotel Muehlebach, which, before it was refurbished and subsumed by Marriott in the late 1990s, was the last vestige of an earlier, prosperous downtown era.
Since the day it opened, the Sprint Center has been one of the most successful arenas in the nation, event without a National Hockey League or National Basketball Association team. It sizzles as is, with concerts, college basketball games and other events.
Another leg was added with opening of the $850 million Power & Light District, which had its genesis many years earlier as a gleam in the eye of movie-theater magnate Stan Durwood, who, interestingly, dated Kay Barnes for several years. Durwood died before he could bring his dream to fruition, but his former girlfriend got the job done. Who knows? Maybe she blew a kiss skyward the day P&L opened in 2008.
The district has had — and probably still has — its share of critics. It opened when the Great Recession was taking hold and overall has not generated the revenue that was forecast, leaving the city to supplement its operation by several million dollars a year. But that won’t be the case forever. The district seems to be going great, and it’s undeniable that, combined with Sprint Center, it turned around our downtown.
I remember going to a basketball tournament at Sprint Center in the fall of 2015 and finding, when I arrived at the center, a huge walk-up crowd, with people waiting in several long lines to buy tickets. Across the street music was blaring from a couple of P&L bars, which were jammed with people. For me, it was a blood rush the likes of which I had never experienced in Kansas City. My city had changed, I realized; it had changed a lot, and for the better.
The third and final stool leg was added in 2011 with the opening of the incredible Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. For that, Julia Irene Kauffman, daughter of the late Ewing and Muriel Kauffman, deserves almost full credit. She arranged funding for the bulk of the $350-million project from the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation. With its two sophisticated performance halls — one primarily for opera and one for symphony — it has to be up there with the best performing arts centers in the nation.
If you can stand in the multi-story lobby of that building and look out — through Moshe Safdie’s angled glass facade — at the lights of the Liberty Memorial, the Western Auto building and other Kansas City landmarks…if you can do that and not feel uplifted, your sensory gas tank is running on empty.
Since work on the first leg of the stool began, scores of new restaurants have opened downtown; construction of apartments and condominiums has boomed; the streetcar has proved a resounding success; and the Crossroads and River Market areas have contributed to the core’s revival.
We can and should be very proud of what has taken place in Kansas City during the last decade. We don’t have to worry about Omaha passing us by, and it doesn’t matter that Greater St. Louis has more residents than Greater Kansas City. What we’ve got here in Kansas City is really, really good.
As we look back, then, we can do so with satisfaction…At the same time, as we march into 2017, it’s time to look ahead again. If all goes as planned, the first leg of a new stool will be a new 800-room convention hotel at 16th and Baltimore, across from Bartle Hall. The hotel development team, led by former City Councilman Mike Burke, announced this week that it had an agreement with an undisclosed lender for a $110 million construction loan, which was the last major obstacle to getting underway.
The second leg of the new stool could be extension of the streetcar line from Union Station to 51st and Brookside — which would require approval of a sales-tax increase by voters living near the proposed expansion.
And the third leg would be…
You got it: A new, single terminal KCI.
It will happen, it WILL happen…With each additional year of aging, the nearly 50-year-old KCI is going to lose its hold on those who love it for its convenience. The warts — including that gloomy interior and those awful bullpen waiting areas — are only going to get uglier.
The wood for the new stool is on the bench, then. All we’ve got to do is start shaping, sanding, sawing and assembling. Let’s get going.