Archive for March, 2017

My interest was piqued a couple of weeks ago when a friend, Lisa Round, texted me an image of the cover of the Kansas City Business Journal. Taking up most of the cover was a drawing of an airliner and this headline: “What’s next for KCI? And how it compares to America’s best-run airports

Inside, the paper devoted seven and a half pages — more than 25 percent of the newspaper — to an assessment of the nation’s major airports, including KCI.

The assessment was a collaborative project done by various business journals in the American City Business Journals chain.

I don’t have a print or online subscription to the Biz Journal, so I bummed a copy from a neighbor who subscribes.

I was expecting a lot of insight, but overall I was disappointed. Essentially, it was a mishmash of statistics and graphics.

The most interesting and understandable part was a “report card” rating the convenience of major U.S. airports. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and D.C.’s Reagan National Airport got the only “A” ratings…KCI got a D-plus, which sounds about right to me.

The convenience rankings were based on factors such as parking, access to public transportation, concentration of retail stores and restaurants, and average wait time in security lines.

Surprising to me, Kansas City’s average security-line wait time was nearly 29 minutes. I can’t recall the last time I had a long wait to go through security; that part of KCI doesn’t bother me at all. At any rate, KCI’s the 29-minute average wait time was third worst, behind only the Washington Dulles and Buffalo Niagra airports.

One factor that wasn’t considered in the convenience rankings was distance from parking lots to gates or from curb to gates. That, of course, is the single biggest convenience factor Kansas City area residents are concerned with…As a result, the “convenience” ratings weren’t particularly relevant insofar as area residents’ perception of KCI.

Another factor that contributed to the mishmash was the identification of airports by their three-letter codes, such as MCI for Kansas City International and MDW for Midway in Chicago. Those codes are not always clear, as we all know, and they sowed confusion in several graphics.

For example, a graphic ranking the most profitable airports put New York’s JFK (clear enough) No. 1. Ranked No. 2 was an airport with the code EWR. Now, even though Patty and I flew to Europe last month out of Newark International Airport, I had to Google EWR to find out that is Newark’s code.

And, by the way, Newark (below) is a fantastic airport. It’s open, airy and inviting, and several dining areas provide tablets or iPads for every customer to order food and drinks.

The most confounding thing in the Biz Journal’s report, however, was a graphic listing the “Top 25 Airport Power Rankings.”

Factors considered in that category included enplanements per employee, revenue per employee and growth patterns in operating income, revenue and debt. Unfortunately, the chart was indecipherable. I found it impossible to go down the list of airports, then read across the graphic and try to figure out why San Jose was No. 1, Los Angeles was No. 2, San Antonio was No. 3, etc.

At any rate, KCI was ranked No. 11. Sounds good, I guess…For the record, San Jose International was ranked No. 1, but I couldn’t tell you why.

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I’m lucky to be included in an email group consisting primarily of former Kansas City Star business reporters, and not much gets by them.

For example, it was a member of that group who sniffed out last week the real estate notice about the $46-million asking price for the main Star building at 1729 Grand Blvd. and the eight-story printing plant across McGee.

On the heels of that revelation, another group member alerted me to news that The Star quickly had an offer in hand for the main building, and that the prospective buyer wanted to convert the building for commercial and residential use. Neither the identify of the prospective buyer nor the agreed-upon sales price was made public.

How much that building would sell for is a matter of keen interest not just to current and former Star employees but also to people in the real estate business and even many casual observers wondering how much a block of prime real estate in the booming Crossroads District (including The Star’s iconic, three-story building) would fetch.

Leave it to another member of the email group, former business reporter David Hayes, to provide the answer. Two days after the announcement of an offer for 1729 Grand, Hayes went back to the real estate listings and found a new, separate listing for the printing plant. The CBRE listing showed a price tag of $30.1 million for the printing plant, meaning (doing the subtraction) that the offer for The Star building must have been about $16 million.

I know very little about commercial real estate, but $16 million seems like a favorable price to the buyer, who eventually will be identified. The parcel consists of an entire city block, bounded by Grand and McGee on the west and east, and 17th and 18th streets on the north and south. That is prime real estate these days, and whatever goes in there should nicely augment the Crossroads.

First Friday in the Crossroads Art District

For many, many years the area south of Truman Road from about Broadway to Oak, was basically fallow ground. When I was working out of The Star building, it was often hard to find a place to get a decent sandwich, so we’d often track down to Crown Center, the nearest oasis.

Now, the entire area is an oasis. There are dozens of places to eat and drink, and night-time entertainment possibilities abound…It gives me no pleasure to say it, but the area will be better off without a couple of hundred employees banging around in the Star building, which now symbolizes a once-powerful institution struggling to retain its grip on relevance.

Sic transit gloria gazzetta.


Public votes on three major issues are coming up Tuesday, April 4. The Star has endorsed the three Kansas City questions comprising a far-reaching, general-obligation bond issue that would generate $800 million for a variety of projects, including flood control, roads and bridges, sidewalks, a new animal shelter in Swope Park and accessibility improvements to public buildings.

I agree with The Star and intend to vote “yes” on all three G.O. bond proposals.

Under state law, it takes a super majority of 57 percent to approve general obligation bonds in Missouri, and it will probably be close, even though there is no organized opposition.

The Star reported today that a telephone survey conducted Friday and Saturday showed that 62 percent of respondents said they favored the bond issues. Twenty-three percent said “no” and 15 percent said they were undecided. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

The Star also endorsed a renegade proposal for a one-eighth-cent citywide sales tax increase to spur economic development in the area bounded by Ninth Street and Gregory Boulevard on the north and south, between The Paseo and Indiana Avenue on the west and east. It would generate an estimated $8.6 million per year for 10 years.

I called this a renegade proposal because it got on the ballot by way of initiative petition — city officials didn’t initiate it — and because Mayor Sly James is openly hostile to it.

In a meeting at The Star, James said: “They (supporters) should have talked to me before they went out and got the damn initiative petition, and we could have had a conversation. But they didn’t.…I can’t support a tax I have zero idea what it’s going to be used for and controlled by zero people that I don’t know who are going to be.”

The proposal, whose supporters include leaders of the political group Freedom Inc., would place decisions for investing the money in the hands of a five-member commission. The mayor and council would appoint three commissioners, the Kansas City Public School District would appoint one, and Jackson County would appoint one.

While I agree completely that the East Side needs a lot bigger injection of public funds than it has been getting, I am very dubious about this proposal. First, I don’t like sales taxes. They are regressive because they hit hardest those least able to pay. Second, I fear graft and corruption. We already have one sales tax I don’t understand — Jackson County’s so-called COMBAT, anti-drug tax — and I’m not interested in another nebulous initiative that seems to be flying at the margins of government.

…On April 4, I recommend a “yes” vote on Kansas City Question 1, Question 2 and Question 3. But I recommend a “no” vote on Kansas City Question 4.


Did you hear that President Trump and EPA chief Scott Pruitt have selected a theme song for the EPA? Yep, it’s that oldie but goody by Lee Dorsey, “Working in the Coal Mine.”

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Pruitt said Trump intends to bring back coal-mining jobs and reduce the cost of electricity. Never mind that renewable energy and natural gas have fast been displacing coal as a primary energy source, not only in the U.S. but worldwide. Nope, the president and Secretary Pruitt — and “My Old Kentucky Home” pal Sen. Mitch McConnell — are bound and determined to see a revival of King Coal.

They’re off their rockers, of course but, hey, they sure picked a great song to lead the way back to the golden age of black lung disease and fibrosis.

Just listen to the ache in Lee Dorsey’s voice when he sings…

Five o’clock in the mornin’
I’m already up and gone
Lord, I’m so tired
How long can this go on?

…And now, for your listening pleasure, here’s that song

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Big news out of The Star tonight…

Just days after officially posting notice that the headquarters building at 1729 Grand Blvd. and the printing plant on McGee Street were for sale, KC Star publisher Tony Berg this afternoon told employees the building had been sold.

The three-story, Italian Renaissance-style building has been home to The Star since 1911.

The fate of the printing plant, which was completed in 2006 at a cost of $200 million, is uncertain. However, The Star’s owner, McClatchy Co., has been seeking to sell it — along with the main building — and lease it back for an initial term, of 15 years.

One longtime reporter, Matt Campbell, posted this on Facebook tonight…

“Sadly, publisher Tony Berg today confirmed that McClatchy is selling the old brick home of The Kansas City Star. A century or so of history was reported and written in that second-floor newsroom.

It used to be full of (cigarette and cigar) smoke and (whiskey) bottles in desk drawers. Since I’ve known it there have been many makeovers. But it is still a huge space, with thick support columns and it is still a place where truth is distilled.

The group that gathered here at 4 p.m. today numbered about 100. We were told the population of the building is now 243. I don’t know if that reflects the Monday layoffs. (More about that in a minute.) There used to be 1,700-1,800 people in this building.

You can almost hear the wind in here now. If you wander this building…you find many weird spaces. It’s a great place…William Rockhill Nelson’s old office at the southeast corner of the newsroom is now a place where reporters learn how to do their own videos.

We’re told the buyer of the old building wants to convert it to commercial and residential use.

We survivors are going to move to the green glass printing building at 16th and McGee. In about a year.

It won’t be the same, but The Star will still be looking over the city.”

Initially, the building had no private offices. The Star’s website says that was because Nelson, The Star’s founder, “wants everyone to feel equal; others say it is because he wants to watch his help.”

It’s been public information for about a year now that the 1729 Grand building and the printing plant were for sale. The prospect of a sale became more palpable last week, however, with publication of a three-paragraph item that cited a commercial real estate listing placing the price tag of the properties at $46 million.

The listing advertised three parcels with a total of 650,000 square feet of building space on 8.3 acres. The listing did not specify how many buildings were for sale, but it included photos of the printing plant and the headquarters building.


Those of us who worked at 1729 Grand will be sorry to see the building transformed from its journalistic purpose. To me, though, the move makes a lot of sense.

The printing plant appears to be profitable. Several publications besides The Star are printed there, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Lawrence Journal-World, the Pitch (which, by the way, is going down to once a month from once a week) and the regional editions of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

Also, it’s modern and large and can certainly accommodate an additional 243 employees.

Operating the 1729 Grand building, on the other hand, has to be a loser for McClatchy. The best thing it has going for it is it’s in the booming Crossroads District. New buildings, including hotels and apartments, have been going up and opening just west of The Star building, and lots of popular bars and restaurants dot the area.

As a beacon of journalism and a symbol of civic power, the 1729 Grand building has been fading — no different than many other other old-time newspaper buildings around the country. For the past several years it has been an anachronism, an institution not in keeping with the hip and fast-changing neighborhood around it.

Physical change was already taking place on former Star property. Earlier this month, the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection — the Leawood-based behemoth — broke ground on a new church building, which will sit on on 1.2 acres that formerly was a parking lot for Star employees.

Before news of the 1729 Grand sale became public tonight, former KC Star development reporter Kevin Collison sent an email to several former colleagues, saying, “Maybe the congregation can pray The Star back to stability.”

We can now hold the prayers; The Star is going in a different direction.


Steve Rosen

More news from The Star…Steve Rosen, a longtime editorial employee, has been laid off. In an email to “friends and colleagues” Wednesday night, Rosen wrote:

“It pains me to inform you of my personal news. I learned late Monday that my news editor position at The Star is being eliminated. I am taking the severance package and my last official day on the job is March 31. While that’s not the way I wanted to go out after 38-plus years at 18th and Grand, you don’t always get to have things your way. The newspaper industry, and The Star and McClatchy in particular, remain in dark times, and the transition to digital continues to take its toll.”

I have also heard reports — unverified at this point — that Joe Ledford of the photo staff and Don Munday, a copy editor and resident Monday morning poet, have also been laid off. Each has more than 20 years of service.

The layoffs signal the paper’s ongoing movement away from senior people with relatively large salaries to bring in younger people who starting at salaries half, or less, of what the veterans were making…Like I said, The Star is going in a different direction.

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Of the three large European cities Patty and I visited on our recent trip, we liked Vienna best, by far. It is clean, partly because all modes of public transportation are powered by electricity; it is sprawling, but manageable precisely because of the pubic transportation network; and it is loaded with great museums, performance halls and other outstanding institutions.

The other two large cities we visited — Budapest and Prague — are quite different, but powerful in their distinctive ways. Patty likened Budapest to New York City because it’s rough around the edges and not particularly clean. But it projects vibrancy and grit. The experience of World War II, when Budapest incurred significant damage and about 300,000 Hungarian soldiers and more than 600,000 civilians died (including at least 450,000 Jews), imbued Hungarians with grit and resilience.

Prague, on the other hand, was largely spared during World War II and is a picture-book city in some respects, notably with its trove of architectural gems and outdoor gathering places, like Old Town Square.

Both countries were part of the Soviet bloc until 1989.

With that, here’s the second round of winter vacation photos, these from Budapest and Prague…

Keleti palyaudvar, Budapest’s main train station

This was the first time I’ve ever been scared on escalators. Steepest I’ve ever seen, by far. When going down, I’d position myself directly behind someone and look down at my feet so I couldn’t see the angle and length of the descent.

“Castle Hill” affords a breathtaking view of the Szechnyi Chain Bridge (spanning the Danube) and the eastern or “Pest” side of the city. That’s the Basilica of St. Stephen in the background.

The Hungarian Parliament building, an outstanding example of the Gothic Revival style. It’s the largest building in Hungary.

Statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy, a Hapsburg hero who wiped out the last Turkish army at the Battle of Zenta in 1697. (The Hapsburgs were so grateful they built him a palace in Vienna.)

Five-hundred-year-old Matthias Church

One of the works of art displayed in the church — a partial reproduction, in marble, of a bronze called “Christ on the Cross,” by Janos Fadrusz

The courtyard outside the church, after a light rain

We stayed at an apartment a block off this major thoroughfare.

The lobby of one of Budapest’s famous bath houses, Gellert Baths. (I took a long bath in one of the pools and emerged with all my physical problems cured. Oddly, my knees started hurting again as soon as I went down the next flight of stairs.)

The Great Synagogue, also known as the Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest in the world, outside of New York City.

The synagogue incurred significant damage from aerial raids during the Nazi Occupation and especially during the Siege of Budapest. Wikipedia says that during the Communist era, the damaged structure again became a prayer house for the “much-diminished Jewish community.” It was restored between 1991 and 1998, partly with the help of a $5 million contribution from fragrance and cosmetics baroness Estee Lauder.

Where the Dohany Street Synagogue was built in 1859, the “Old-New Synagogue” was built in 1270. It is the oldest synagogue in eastern Europe and perhaps all of Europe.

Our last stop was Prague, where we stayed in a fifth-floor apartment above this bakery. I spent a considerable number of Czech crowns at Paneria.

Across the street, a Metro (underground) station contributed to a steady flow of foot traffic.

This is the original and historic part of the Prague train station. The newer part is as plain as could be.

Patty and I at the historic station

Perhaps Prague’s most famous landmark, the Charles Bridge. It was started in 1357 under King Charles IV and finished in the beginning of the 15th century. Until 1841, it was the only bridge crossing the Vltava River, connecting Prague Castle on the west side and Old Town on the east.

Locals and tourists alike stream across the bridge every day.

St. Vitus Cathedral is adjacent to Prague Castle and, from this vantage point, behind the castle wall.

The charming and irresistible Old Town Square

The famous Old town Square astronomical clock, with moving side figures that put on a little show at the top of each hour. (I still don’t understand how to interpret the clock.) The day we were there, a huge crowd cheered after the 5 p.m. “performance.”

Prague’s Municipal House is a stellar example of the Art Nouveau style of architecture. It opened in 1912 and is used today as a concert hall, ballroom and civic building. It also includes cafes and restaurants…

…like the Ameriky (American) Bar, on the first floor.

Our group — consisting, from left, of Charlie, Paul, Edie and Patty — found it to be a very sobering environment…You have to trust me, though, when I say this group was a lot of fun.

And then…poof! It was over, and we were at the Prague airport Saturday morning, getting ready to come home…If you’d have shot a canon down this broad corridor that morning, you would have killed only one person.

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Before Feb. 24, I had not been to Vienna in 50 years. The first trip was in 1967, between my junior and senior years in college.

My father generously paid for me to participate in a two- or three-week tour of Europe. It was a bus tour, with a sprightly, handsome tour guide named “Jella” (silent “J”).

Our group consisted of 44 girls and four boys, and I think Jella got to know one or two of the girls pretty well. As for me, I drank a lot of beer; fell hard for a tour participant from Buffalo; and really didn’t pay enough attention to learn much about Europe. (Once back home in Kentucky, the relationship with the girl from Buffalo soon faltered.)

About all I remembered of Vienna was the splendor of the Schonbrunn Palace, the former imperial summer residence of the Hapsburgs, who ruled various parts of Europe from the 13th century to the early 20th century.

This trip was different. Patty and I, along with another couple, toured Vienna as it should be toured, going from one part of that great city to another on public transportation, visiting museums and palaces, attending the opera and enjoying local dishes like Wiener Schnitzel, bratwurst and “apfelstrudel.”

Our trip, which ended Saturday, also included stints in Salzburg, Budapest and Prague. The most gratifying part of the trip was spending time with our son Charlie, who is in the midst of a one-year internship with a U.N. agency in Vienna — one of the U.N.’s four headquarters cities, along with New York, Geneva and Nairobi.

In seven months, Charlie has learned a lot about the European lifestyle and, among other things, has visited Berlin and Budapest and gone skiing in the Alps.

Naturally, I took a lot of photos and managed to not drop or break my trusty little Lumix. So, this week, I’ve got two sets of photos for you. The first set is from Salzburg and Vienna. The second will be from Budapest and Prague.

Now, as Jackie Gleason used to say…And awaaay we go!

Not modern buildings but a fortress — Hohensalzburg Fortress, built in 1077 — dominates the Salzburg skyline.

If it affords an imposing view from below, the fortress itself offers wonderful views of the city and the Salzach River…

…and of the nearby mountains.

Charlie joined us in Salzburg after taking the train from Vienna. He and I enjoyed a cigar on the fortress grounds.

Street scene, Salzburg

Usually, it’s the smells of a bakery that beckon; in this case it was light and loaves.

A good-looking group for sure: Patty and Charlie and our traveling companions, Edie Quinby and Paul Cochran, old friends who live in the Bay Area.

Vienna’s main train station. (In Europe, Vienna is Wien, pronounced “Veen.”)

Statue of Mozart, Vienna’s favorite son, next to the back side of the Austrian National Library, which also was the “New Imperial Palace” of the Hapsburgs

The gracefully curving “New Imperial Palace” from the front.

Street scene, Vienna

Walking and sightseeing requires energy that a good, healthy Viennese lunch can provide.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, with its soaring south tower

Even from the shorter, north tower you can see Vienna’s most prominent structures, including the 57-story Donau (Danube) Center tower (left) and the huge ferris wheel at Prater amusement park.

That ferris wheel, up close

The majestic Schonbrunn

Feeling regal at the Schonbrunn cafe. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…”

How to get back to the city…We spent a lot of time poring over maps with colored, squiggly transit routes.

Trams and the “U” (underground) are Vienna’s primary modes of public transportation. You never have to wait more than a few minutes for either.

On the “U”

Fashion and affluence are abundant.

Charlie and Patty, outside the U.N. complex

The Danube, or “Donau”

The spectacular Vienna State Opera house

For a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, we were seated on the fifth of six elevated tiers. And while it was sometimes difficult to tell from that distance which character was singing, the sound quality was perfect, as you would expect.


Added at the request of Jayson Seymour (see comment below), “apfelstrudel” from Salzburg…


Also adding this photo of a cafe in Salzburg. Unlike at the coffee houses in the U.S., most people are not checking their email or held hostage by their cellphones in European cafes. The cafe is a place where people read actual newspapers or books, relax and talk quietly. Most cafes have a rack newspapers affixed to wooden rods.

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