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Archive for January, 2017

So far, The Kansas City Star’s factual coverage of the Yordano Ventura tragedy is wanting.

Sure, columnist Vahe Gregorian, whom The Star dispatched to the Dominican Republic, did a good job of tracking the lead-up to the funeral and related events, and photographer John Sleezer, who’s also there, has been delivering good photos and video.

It was a good idea to send those two, but The Star screwed up, in my opinion, by not sending one other person — an experienced reporter.

And I don’t mean a sports reporter, I mean a news reporter.

Instead, The Star has had Royals’ beat writer Rustin Dodd sitting at his desk here in Kansas City trying to sort out what happened in the early hours of Sunday morning in the Dominican Republic.

As we all know, there are plenty of questions about what happened, including:

:: Was Ventura alive when people first got to him after his Jeep went off the road and flipped onto its side?

:: Was he robbed of cash and perhaps his World Series ring while he was dying or after he died?

:: And what the heck was he doing leaving a party about 4 a.m. or after and embarking on a relatively long drive, on mountain roads, in the fog?

I’m not asking for perfect answers right now to all those questions; the answers to at least a couple should unfold in due time. But having an actual reporter on the scene — preferably one who speaks Spanish — would help get to the answers, and perhaps unearth new ones.

In addition, there is one important question that we should have had the answer to by now, but haven’t for want of good  basic reporting:

:: Exactly where was Ventura going and how long should it have taken him to get to his destination?

On that key point, Rustin Dodd’s reporting has been muddled and perhaps inaccurate. He reported in Tuesday’s paper that Ventura was intending to travel “about 80 miles” — from the province of San Jose de Ocoa “toward Cibao.”

I went to Google maps today to try to get an idea of his possible route.

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If Ventura was going from San Jose de Ocoa (bottom right on the map) to the city of El Cibao (upper right), the trip would have been 122 miles. Google pegs the duration of that trip at 3 hours, 43 minutes. If, on the other hand,  he was headed somewhere in the El Cibao Valley, the trip might have been closer to the 80 miles Dodd reported.

What we know for sure is that Ventura was an hour and 15 minutes (29 miles, according to Google) into his trip when he crashed in the town of Juan Adrian, which is not shown on the map. (And, by the way, as far as I can tell, The Star has yet to publish a map — a major omission.)

Exactly where Ventura was headed is very important because it means he might have embarked on a nearly four-hour trip, at or about 4 a.m., after being at a party that ran into the wee hours.

It would have been bad enough had he left at 4 a.m. on an 80-mile trip on mountain roads and in fog. But if, indeed, it was a 122-mile, nearly four-hour trip, it casts even  more serious question on Ventura’s judgment. (Not to mention the fact he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.)

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In any event, The Star would have better served its readers if management had sent an experienced news reporter to the Dominican Republic Sunday. We look to sports writers to tell us things like how fast Ventura could throw a baseball and how he gets along with his teammates. But we don’t look to them to sort out the facts of a news story with many tentacles.

If Star editors made a decision not to send a news reporter, they made a mistake. If they did propose sending a reporter but were rebuffed by upper management because of the cost, upper management made a mistake.

To paraphrase the late Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray, it could have been…it should have been….a home run! But, alas, the ball came down at the warning track.

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So, I just want to compliment many of the people in the room. I have great respect for the news and great respect for freedom of the press and all of that.

Donald Trump, at a Jan. 11 news conference, addressing the news media’s handling of reports that Russia had compromising information about him.

 

I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.

Donald Trump, in a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency on Jan. 21.

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If your reaction to those two quotes is “Huh?”, I’m sure you’re not alone.

Sooo, which do you think it is: Does our president loathe the press? Or does he have “great respect” for it? And how, given those two polar-opposite statements, are we to know where our president stands — not only on that issue but any number of others, many more important than how he feels about the press?

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John McWhorter

Gratefully, an English Literature  professor at Columbia University named John McWhorter had some excellent suggestions in The New York Times Sunday. In a commentary titled “How to Listen to Donald Trump Every Day for Years,” McWhorter broken open the pineapple containing the code to deciphering our president’s waterfall of words.

Here are some of the key points McWhorter makes:

:: We Americans are accustomed to hearing our presidents talk in quasi-speech form, even when they’re speaking extemporaneously, such as at news conferences. We are not used to hearing a president “talk” in a style similar to how we might chat with each other by the office water fountain.

The important thing to keep in mind, McWhorter says, is that while we are expecting Trump to “speak,” he is actually just “talking.”

donaldEvidence of Trump’s “talking,” the writer said, can be found in his “false starts, jumpy inserts and repetition,” such as when he laces his comments with interjections like, “Believe me,” and “OK?”

Far from shocking, McWhorter says, it was just a matter of time before a talker, if you will, reached the highest office in the land:

America’s relationship to language has become more informal by the decade since the 1960s, just as it has to dress, sexual matters, culinary habits, dance and much else.”

Trump’s style befuddles the news media because, as McWhorter observes, “it is novel that someone in the Oval Office can’t be bothered with trying to be articulate.

To get one’s arms around Trump’s style, McWhorter continues, members of the media should hark back to Keegan-Michael Key’s “anger translator” routine with President Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2015. (Obama: “…Because despite our differences, we count on the press to shed light on the most important issues of today.” Key: “…And we can count on Fox News to terrify old white people with some nonsense…Sharia law is coming to Cleveland. Run for the damn hills!”)

It’s folly, then, to try to parse Trump’s every statement or attempt to follow him through his oratorical maze.

In closing McWhorter says…

teddyI think of Theodore Roosevelt. While he was quite articulate on all levels, he was an ebullient, ever-curious person, about whom an observe once said, with affection, ‘You must always remember that the president is about 6.’ Linguistically, I listen to the man who is now president as if he were roughly 12 years old. That way, he is always perfectly understandable.

 

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News of the death of young Royals’ pitcher Yordano Ventura makes it difficult to be cheery about anything today, but nevertheless it’s important to report — and take satisfaction in — the fact that The Kansas City Star’s editorial page roared back to life today, after months of dispiriting enervation.

Not to overstate the situation, but it’s almost as if flesh that had fallen away from a body was suddenly, almost miraculously, restored.

It’s like a Higher Being intoned the words “Get off your pallet and walk!” — and somehow it happened.

I’ll tell you, the mug shots of six new editorial board members stripped above The Star’s flag on the on today’s front page was a welcome and encouraging sight. (Also pictured was editorial cartoonist Lee Judge, who is not a member of the “editorial board.” Not pictured was publisher Tony Berg, who heads the editorial board.)

An even more encouraging sight was two pages, 14A and 15A, of exclusively local editorial content. In addition to two staff-written editorials (the first in months), new editorial board vice president Colleen McCain Nelson wrote about her vision for The Star’s opinion pages. She summed it up by saying, “The Star is redoubling its effort to take a leading role in civil public discourse and to deliver unique, impactful opinion content.

To some readers, today’s hoopla might seem over the top, but I think it’s completely warranted in light of the fact the bottom had fallen out of the editorial page, leaving readers to guess if a resurrection was even possible.

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The lead opinion piece on the editorial page (the left-facing page) was titled “Giving Trump a chance.” The second editorial was titled “Greitens off to strong start with call for ethics reform in Jefferson City.”

Those headlines, along with the text beneath them, told us a lot about the editorial tone and philosophy we’ll be seeing. This will not be a “slash and burn” approach, like it was when the editorial page was under the unofficial direction of longtime editorial writer Yael Abouhalkah. With Nelson, we can expect restrained evaluation of issues and individuals, segueing into strong opinions. Today, Nelson put readers on notice she will taste before she chews and tap before she hammers.

In recent months, The Star has probably lost a lot of readers who vote Democratic. And while the new editorial tack might run off even more of those, I think a tone of moderation will bring back many readers who felt abandoned. It could also attract new readers who haven’t taken notice previously and who have never looked to The Star for guidance on local and national issues.

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For evidence of the new, measured approach, let’s take a closer look at today’s two editorials.

:: In an email, Nelson told me Dave Helling, political-reporter-turned-opinion-writer, wrote the lead editorial, “with input from the rest of the board.”

The headline, “Giving Trump a chance,” surely will have many local readers grinding their teeth because Trump, with his arrogance and his reckless and contradictory pronouncements, has already exhausted whatever trove of goodwill opponents apportioned him immediately after the election. You have to read the editorial, however, to see The Star is taking a wait-and-see approach to the Trump presidency.

The editorial said that “declaring this a failed presidency before it even begins won’t help our country.” At the same time, it noted the “widespread unease” with Trump that overflowed Saturday in Washington D.C. and several other major cities, and it acknowledged the fear Trump has aroused with his attacks on the press and individuals who have criticized him.

The editorial closed with these thoughtful words:

We are committed to measuring the president’s words and actions against the same yard sticks this newspaper has always used to judge public figures: honesty, transparency, facts. If President Trump succeeds, you’ll read it here. If he fails, we’ll write about that, too.

:: Just as the headline on the editorial about Republican Gov. Eric Greitens could give the impression The Star will support him gung-ho, the editorial itself bestowed qualified praise. It applauded Greitens for his push on ethics reform, including a ban on lobbyists’ gifts to legislators, and it suggested the paper would support Greitens’ call for term limits for all statewide officeholders.

At the same time, the editorial laid into Greitens for hypocrisy by refusing to disclose the sources of about $2 million in anonymous contributions he received and also for accepting $1 million in contributions from a Joplin businessman and his sister.

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As critical as I’ve been of The Star in recent months, particularly about the demise of the editorial page, I have said all along I was confident Tony Berg had a long-range plan for change. We saw signs of it last year with the addition of the four-page “In Depth” pullout section that runs in the Tuesday-Saturday papers, and today we see it in even more striking fashion.

I don’t think it’s overstating the situation to say that even with its depleted reporting and editing staff…even with the loss of more than 1,500 total employees…even with its parent company lugging around a debt of $900 million…even with print circulation and advertising continuing to decline…this could be — should be — the start of a new, better era for The Kansas City Star and its readers.

Berg deserves a round of applause, and — as today’s lead editorial said about Trump — Berg and Nelson deserve to be given a chance.

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In her first public appearance since being hired as vice president and editorial page editor of The Kansas City Star, Colleen McCain Nelson pledged Monday to have a “robust opinion page” that would be “smart, interesting and a little bit unpredictable.”

By unpredictable, she indicated readers should not expect the newspaper’s editorial positions to be consistently and decidedly liberal, as they have been in recent years.

“I think it will be more difficult to characterize the editorial board’s views in the future,” she said.

Nelson’s appearance came at a meeting on the Plaza of the 40 Years Ago Column Club…When it organized many years ago, the club was open only to people who had been mentioned in a “Forty Years Ago” column. Now it is open to almost anyone who is interested. About 40 people, including several former KC Star employees, were on hand Monday.

Last week, the paper announced the creation of a reconstituted editorial page, with an editorial board that will consist of eight people — seven who are in place now and one to be hired in the coming weeks.

Leading the editorial board, of course, is the publisher, Tony Berg, who hired Nelson last August, after laying off longtime editorial writer Yael Abouhalkah. Another editorial page stalwart, Lewis Diuguid, also departed, leaving Berg as the lone editorial board member for more than two months. During that time, the editorial page has consisted largely of syndicated columns, letters to the editor and political cartoons.

The drought of staff-written editorials will end this coming Sunday, Nelson said, drawing smiles and nods of appreciation from several audience members.

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Colleen McCain Nelson, left, chatted with Mary Abbott yesterday after Nelson spoke to the 40 Years Ago Column Club at a Plaza luncheon.

Among other things, Nelson talked about growing up in Salina, attending the University of Kansas and working as a political reporter for the Wichita Eagle before heading off to bigger posts, including the Dallas Morning News’ editorial page, where she and two colleagues won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010.

Her husband, Eric Nelson, is also a KU graduate, and he, too, is working for The Star, leading the paper’s digital operation.

Most recently, Colleen (pronounced with a long “o”) Nelson spent five years writing for the Wall Street Journal, topping off her time there by covering the recently concluded presidential campaign.

Here is a sampling of her comments Monday on a variety of subjects:

:: On where she and her husband have chosen to live: “I live in Missouri (Brookside area, loosely) but have season tickets to Kansas basketball.”

:: On the relative importance of Kansas City’s City Hall in the editorial page hierarchy: “This is not an area we will step back from…We will be all over City Hall, to be sure.”

:: On the proposal for a new, single-terminal KCI: “That (deciding whether to recommend voter approval) is high on my list. I have a lot to compare KCI to, and I’m certainly aware of its shortcomings.”

:: On finding the right balance between Kansas and Missouri coverage: “That’s certainly a challenge. It is something we’re going to be taking a close look at.”

:: On her preference to read newspapers in print form rather than online: “There’s a certain order to it; it (the layout) makes sense.”

:: On the challenge that Tony Berg presented her with: “I feel fortunate to be part of the team The Star is building. I think The Star’s editorial page will match up with just about any editorial page in the country. He (Berg) gave me the running room to make that happen.”

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Several people in attendance Monday said they came away impressed by Nelson. One member of the 40 Years Ago Column club, Mary Abbott, told me in passing, “I think there’s hope.”

And Laura Hockaday, retired KC Star society editor, sent Tony Berg an email later Monday, saying Nelson spoke “with great intelligence, knowledge, grace and poise.”

Hockaday went on to say:

“All of us Star alumni and others were most impressed and quite thrilled to hear the new editorial page editor speak with the confidence of her past outstanding career and her dedication to her new role in seeing The Kansas City Star move forward.”

Hear, hear. Tony Berg has been publisher about a year now. It’s taken a long time for him to get a credible editorial team in place, but it’s taking shape. Let’s hope we soon have a substantial, forceful and well-written editorial page that agitates for Missouri, Kansas and the Kansas City area in particular, to become better places to live, work and do business.

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I hear a lot of people say, when referring to the print edition of The Star: “There’s no news in there anymore,” or, “It’s getting thinner and thinner.

Both statements are true to a degree, but only one — “it’s getting thinner” — is substantially correct.

Many readers are under the mistaken impression that, because the paper is significantly thinner and lighter (every day except Sunday, that is) it contains a lot less news.

Not so. The paper has definitely shrunk in size, but that’s mainly because so many advertisers have gone away. At the same time, what we in the business call the “news hole” — the space allotted to text, photos and graphics — has not shrunk nearly as much.

In fact, The Star’s news hole has grown appreciably within the last year, since Publisher Tony Berg added the “In Depth” pullout section, which effectively added two full pages to the paper Tuesday through Saturday. (It’s a four-page section, but one of the four is the editorial page and one is the Op-Ed page.)

What has happened in Kansas City has been mirrored around the country. If you haven’t seen the figures, they are jaw dropping…Over the last 15 years, annual newspaper advertising revenue has dropped from $67 billion nationwide to about $16.4 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America. With that kind of over-the-cliff performance, newspapers could not possibly continue publishing the hefty, healthy products of past years.

newspaper-ad-rev-to-2014

For nearly all newspapers, even the great national papers like The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, prosperity is a thing of the past. Now, a newspaper is considered to be doing pretty well if it is just treading water.

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As a reporter and later an assignment editor, I never had to concern myself much with the balance between ads and news hole. I remember that we in the newsroom would complain frequently about the relatively small size of the news hole, due mainly to the large number of ads. If we could have peered into the future, we surely would not have complained.

As I recall, the ratio of advertising space to news hole used to run about 60-40. Now, for many papers, those numbers have flipped, or worse.

In an effort to illustrate this phenomenon, I pulled out my green eyeshade and crunched some numbers relating to two sections of today’s newspaper.

The “A” section — which houses the international, national and local news and the editorial and Op-Ed pages — consists of 14 pages. Each page contains about 200 square inches of space, not counting the margins at top, bottom, left and right.

By my calculations, the A section had 2,065 square inches of news and other editorial material, while advertising (including obituaries, which are paid for) accounted for 735 square inches.

That’s a ratio of 74-26 percent, or nearly three square inches of news hole for every square inch of advertising!!

The story is a little brighter in the sports section, which traditionally has had the highest ratio of advertising. There, the ratio of news hole to advertising was only 2 to 1 (1,350 square inches of news and 650 square inches of advertising).

In a way, we here in Kansas City are lucky that the McClatchy Co., The Star’s owner, is allowing The Star this many print pages per day. There’s an expense associated with each page, and that’s the price McClatchy must pay for the newsprint — the actual paper that runs through the presses.

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The news/advertising ratio greatly influences another major factor in newspapers — story lengths.

When The Star was flush and prosperous, as was the case until about the mid-2000s, dozens of reporters were covering all facets of the community, and all were agitating to get their stories in the paper. As a result, editors had to be ever-vigilant about story lengths. I remember a relatively brief period, back around 2000, when the edict came down that no story could exceed 30 column inches.

That is not very much for an important story requiring substantial explanation. The 30-inch limit generated a firestorm of criticism and squawking from reporters — and rightly so, because big stories often require 50 inches or more. That’s especially true of investigative pieces that have been weeks or months in the making. (I recall one former reporter, Rick Alm, demanding that his byline be taken off a story that editors cut down by more than half.)

With The Star now down to fewer than 25 reporters — and having necessarily reduced its coverage area — there’s less need to keep stories short. In fact, the pendulum has swung wildly in the other direction: Stories are often way too long. Today, for example, on Page 2, The Star ran a nearly 50-inch long story by Judy Thomas on the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph banning a certain person from diocesan property because he had violated “safe boundaries” in his interactions with children.

It struck me as awfully long before I started it, but I kept reading, thinking it must contain something explosive or the diocese’s action was controversial. But no; there was nothing explosive and no controversy. The man, whom The Star did not identify because he is not charged with any crime, blandly accepted the ban.

Now, Judy Thomas is an excellent reporter, but her editors should have reined her in on that story; it deserved no more than 10 to 12 inches, in my opinion.

Elsewhere in the paper, examples of swollen verbiage can be found almost every day on the editorial page. On the left side, where The Star used to (and presumably will again) run relatively short editorials expressing the paper’s official viewpoint on a variety of issues, The Star has been running 30-inch wire-service pieces that take up two full columns. For the most part, it’s been “filler,” rather than meaningful, relevant commentary.

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All this is to show how the newspaper business has been turned upside down, at least as far as the print product is concerned. As I’ve said before, I’m very grateful The Star still publishes a printed edition every day. With each passing day, though, The Star is shifting its emphasis from print to digital, and I’m girding myself for the day when Tony Berg breaks the news that The Star will no longer be publishing on Monday and Tuesday. Those are the days on which the paper is in danger of flying a couple of houses away after leaving the delivery agent’s hand.

I ask you, 20 years ago who could have foreseen the era of the winged paper?

 

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Finally, The Kansas City Star is starting to “matriculate the ball down the field.” (Credit for that magical turn of phrase goes to the late Hank Stram, longtime KC Chiefs coach, who was taped saying it on Jan. 12, 1970, when the Chiefs soundly beat the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.)

Today, the paper announced in a story posted online it was adding four full-time people to the editorial page and one part-time person, which will boost the editorial board from two full-time employees to six full-time employees and one part-time.

The story also mentioned, without explanation, the pending hiring of an eighth board member.

Here’s the new editorial board line-up (minus the pending hire):

:: Tony Berg, publisher, who let the page to slide into near oblivion the last few months and now is largely responsible for restoring the editorial page’s relevance.

:: Colleen McCain Nelson, vice-president and editorial page editor, who began working late last year and will have day-to-day responsibility for reinvigorating the page and creating a collaborative atmosphere in which the new staff can flourish.

:: Dave Helling, chief political reporter, who joined The Star in 2005 after many years as a TV reporter.

:: Steve Kraske, once-a-week columnist who went to part-time status a few years ago and will continue dividing his time among The Star, his “Up to Date” program on KCUR-FM, and UMKC, where teaches.

:: Mary Sanchez, longtime Metro columnist. She has been with the paper nearly 32 years.

:: Melinda Henneberger, a newcomer who most recently was a columnist at USA Today. She was born and raised in southern Illinois, and her husband, Bill Turque, is a former KC Star reporter. Turque has been a reporter for The Washington Post the last 14 years. (The Star’s story does not say if Turque will continue at The Post but indicates both he and Henneberger are moving to the Kansas City area.)

:: Derek Donovan, who has been The Star’s readers’ representative the last 12 years.

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To be sure, this is a bold strike for Berg and Nelson and should be welcome news to Star readers, who haven’t seen a locally written editorial in many weeks. (Today’s story said staff-written editorials would resume Jan. 22.)

I applaud Berg for loosening the purse strings to hire at least one additional employee (two, if the mysterious eighth editorial board member comes to fruition). Beyond that, here are the pluses and minuses of these moves, as I see it.

…As I said in a recent post, Helling and Kraske will bring a ton of experience and credibility to the editorial page. They’re both polished writers and have scores of contacts and sources.

Sanchez carries an almost equally high profile by dint of her weekly column. She is a plodding writer, however, and probably will have trouble arousing readers intellectually as an opinion writer…Here, for example is part of a paragraph she wrote last week about a teen leadership program, called Anytown, which is being revived:

“It demanded area teenagers to be deeply contemplative about their opinions. It guided them to understand influences involved with how they formed viewpoints and helped them assess if their thoughts could uphold to factual scrutiny.”

Really, when a professional writes a paragraph like that, he or she needs to go back, recognize it sucks and rewrite it.

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Melinda Henneberger

Henneberger sounds like she could be a good hire, but, as far as job stability, she has been like a butterfly on the wing from one flower to the next. Her last job — writing a column at USA Today — lasted all of five months. (I hope she had a chance to introduce herself around before giving her notice.)

Previously, she worked for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Dallas Morning News, Bloomberg Politics and Roll Call (a paper published in Washington D.C. from Monday to Friday when Congress is in session and on Mondays during recess)…With her track record, I doubt she’ll ever qualify for a pizza and sheet-cake retirement party at 18th and Grand. If she does, bully for her.

From The Star’s story, it sounds like Derek Donovan will essentially replace Lewis Diuguid, who resigned as an editorial board member last year. One of Diuguid’s main jobs was editing the letters to the editor, and Donovan inherits that duty, which he had before becoming public editor in 2004. The Star’s story doesn’t expand on Donovan’s other duties, only to say, “He will end his role as the newspaper’s public editor.”

The story does not say if the paper will hire or name a new public editor — a position that calls for occasional critical evaluation of published stories that become controversial for one reason or another. I seriously doubt that Berg will authorize the hiring of a new public editor, and, to be frank, it won’t make much difference if he doesn’t because readers benefitted very little from Donovan’s scaredy-cat tap dancing around controversial stories.

…On the whole, though, this is a good, fresh start for The Star’s editorial page. For the sake of the employees and the readers, I hope the page becomes robust again, like it was before it stalled and began to spiral down a few years ago.

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Cities that achieve the most development success often plant the seeds years in advance.

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, for example, laid the groundwork for its wildly successful Village West development (Nebraska Furniture Mart, Kansas Speedway and Children’s Mercy Park) by purchasing more than 300 acres of private property, including some homes that had to be razed, in the late 1990s.

The government and the county as a whole have been reaping the benefits ever since. (The government got a harsh lesson in planning about a decade earlier, when it failed to buy up, for possible development, land around the privately financed Woodlands horse and dog racing tracks at 99th and Leavenworth Road, just east of what became Village West. The tracks failed, and The Woodlands and the immediate surrounding area remain a wasteland.)

With similar foresight — that is, the Unified Government’s purchase of the acreage near at 110th and State Avenue — the city of North Kansas City made a strategic decision in 2012 to buy dozens of acres at the southeast quadrant of Armour Road and I-29/35 when the Archer Daniels Midland flour mill there was going out of business. That might have been a good business for many years, but it was always a nasty looking operation, dominated by a towering silo amid weeds and barren surroundings.

I am a frequent visitor to North Kansas City, owing to two facts: My primary care physician is in a building at the North Kansas City Hospital complex, and Patty and I own a building at 14th and Swift (two block east of Burlington), where she has operated her garment-manufacturing business for many years.

So, it was pleasing to me to watch that ADM silo come down a few years back. I had no idea what was coming next, but just having that site cleared was a step forward.

This week, The Star’s development reporter, Steve Vockrodt, reported in detail plans for the nearly 60-acre site. On Tuesday, the North Kansas City Council approved a financing plan for a $134 million redevelopment that is scheduled to include:

:: A $35 million golf driving range/entertainment complex called Driv Golf Lounge & Brewhouse. Driv Golf is along the lines of Topgolf, which has close to 30 locations around the country, including one at I-435 and Nall in Overland park. (Although I’m an avid golfer, I’ve never been to Topgolf, and from what I hear, it’s much more about drinking, dining and entertainment than improving your golf game.)

:: Two hotels, a conference center, a grocery, 200 apartments, restaurants and other retail.

In separate moves, the city sold Meierotto Jewelers a tract, where it will build a store, and it has arranged a land swap with Burger King, which has a store in the redevelopment area. Burger King will move to a new site farther east on Armour Road.

Leading the development is a firm called National Realty Advisors in Leawood. Vockrodt said the financing plan includes tax-increment financing, a community improvement district and a guest tax on the hotel rooms that will be part of the project.

The publicly funded part of the project is expected to be $33 million of the $134 million total.

…But back to that decision of city officials to buy the site. Sara Copeland, the city’s community development director, told me the land acquisition process actually began about 15 years ago. Back then, Copeland said, a relatively small piece of property was going into bankruptcy court, and word had it that someone wanted to buy it and put up a mini-storage facility. The city didn’t want that to happen, so the city counselor went to bankruptcy court and, armed with authorization to pay up to a certain amount, successfully purchased the plot.

“That set us on this course,” Copeland said.

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Sara Copeland

Several other piecemeal purchases subsequently took place, including the former Payless Cashways — later Sutherlands — site. (The store was demolished in August.) The largest purchase, of course, was the ADM site, which cost the city $11.3 million — with an additional $1 million spent on demolition. Although city officials didn’t have a specific plan in mind for the area where they were scooping up acreage, Copeland said, “We were concerned about what was going to happen with the mill.”

Now, after many years of prescient land acquisition, the city stands ready to capitalize. The City Council will need to approve several more actions along the way, including establishment of the TIF district, but Copeland said construction of a new street within the redevelopment area is expected to begin as soon as the weather improves.

“It’s been quite a process,” Copeland said. “It’s starting to happen, and we’re really excited about it.”

**

North Kansas City is a great little town. Its population is only about 4,300, and it covers only 4.2 square miles. But it has some excellent bars, restaurants, bakeries and other retail establishments — many along the several-block, “downtown” section of Armour east of Burlington. It has an extremely low crime rate, and I can tell you from experience city services are excellent.

Copeland and other city officials have a right to be excited about the upcoming project, which, Copeland said, could be the biggest commercial development in the city’s history.

Seaking as a property owner in the city, I can say it will be great to see North Kansas City start participating, in a big way, in the development boom taking place in much of the Kansas City area…In a year or two, I might even find myself driving over to Driv to hit some golf balls.

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