Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

With two more recent hires, The Kansas City Star is forging ahead with its new — and encouraging — editorial expansion.

The latest hires are Andy Marso, a KCUR reporter, and Kelsey Ryan, a reporter with the Wichita Eagle the last four years.





Marso will be covering the health care business, and Ryan will be a “data/investigative reporter.” (I’m not sure what that means, but I guess we’ll be finding out, based on what she produces.)

Marso previously covered state government for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He has a bachelor’s degree from KU and a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland.

Ryan’s LinkedIn page indicates she got her degree from Emporia State University and previously worked for the Emporia State Bulletin and The Joplin Globe.

What is taking place at The Star is nothing short of amazing, as far as I’m concerned. Until January 2016, when Tony Berg became publisher, The Star had done nothing but shrink and oxidize since being acquired by the McClatchy Co. in 2006.

Now the paper is on a roll. Since Berg took over, The Star has added at least 10 editorial employees; it has completely overhauled its editorial board and editorial page; and it has significantly increased the size of the news hole. Those are all welcome developments for readers, and, with luck, they will ultimately result in upswings in circulation and advertising.

Berg deserves a lot of credit for these upgrades, but it is important to note that he could not be doing this without approval from McClatchy headquarters in Sacramento.



McClatchy itself is undergoing significant change. Last month, the company announced it was replacing Patrick Talamantes as CEO. Talamantes had been in the top job since 2012. The new CEO is Craig Forman, a 55-year-old private investor and entrepreneur and a McClatchy board member. Forman’s hiring marks a sharp digression from the old McClatchy model of promoting insiders. (A former Star publisher, Mark Zieman, remains a McClatchy vice president.)

To be sure, McClatchy, which operates media companies in 29 U.S. markets, is hardly thriving. Corporate debt stands at about $900 million, and the company reported a third-quarter, 2016 loss of nearly $10 million. Ad revenue was down about 11 percent from the same quarter in 2015.

Although a McClatchy turnaround is hard to envision, at least the situation is brightening in Kansas City.

Besides, Marso and Ryan, here are some of The Star’s hires within the last year…

:: Steve Vockrodt, a business reporter, who came from the Pitch.

:: Bryan Lowry, chief political reporter, who came from the Wichita Eagle.

:: Hunter Woodall, Topeka correspondent.

:: Katy Bergen, general assignment reporter.

:: Maria Torres, digital and social media.

:: Colleen McCain Nelson, vice president and editorial page editor.

:: Eric Nelson (Colleen’s husband), manager of the digital news operation.

:: Melinda Henneberger, editorial writer and Op-Ed columnist.


Every paper can benefit from fresh blood, and The Star sure needed some. It is — and will be — good to see these new names and faces in the paper. I hope the longtime editorial employees who survived the bloodletting that took place between 2006 and 2015 are more hopeful about the future. They have looked into the abyss for a long time. Now, perhaps, they can look up.

Read Full Post »

From a front-page story in today’s Kansas City Star, it is clear that the strange, self-defeating outbursts we used to see on the field from Royals’ pitcher Yordano Ventura were by-products of a personal life that was at best chaotic and at worst out of control.

The writers, sports columnist Vahe Gregorian and Metro reporter Maria Torres, shed much light on elements of Ventura’s life that the public had not been privy to before he died in a one-car crash in the Dominican Republic on Jan. 22.

Consider, for example, that the 25-year-old Ventura had been estranged from his mother for nearly a year, since shortly after marrying a woman who was already married at the time she and Ventura married.

From The Star’s story, it sounds like the woman he married, Maria del Pilar Sangiovanni, was strictly bad news. The couple argued a lot, and The Star’s story suggests that Sangiovanni’s father might have choreographed two incidents — one in Surprise, Arizona, the other in Kansas City — involving threats to Ventura. After the first incident, Ventura told police he believed Sangiovanni’s father, who has connections to the ruling political party in the Dominican Republic, intended to have him killed.

The couple separated in July — six months after the wedding — in the midst of Ventura’s last baseball season, a season marked by Ventura throwing at hitters and getting into confrontations with opposing players.


The Star’s story, while it sheds much light on Ventura’s immaturity and bad judgment, leaves unanswered two very big questions. First: How did he end up where he was when he crashed his souped-up Jeep that fateful morning? Second: Was he drunk or on illegal and/or prescription drugs.

We may never get satisfactory answers to either question. Regarding what chemical elements might have been in his blood, authorities in the Dominican Republic said last week they have the results of toxicology tests but do not intend to make them public.

How should we interpret that? Well, I’d say there’s about a 99 percent chance he was impaired at the time of the crash.

I cannot fault The Star for not being able to get the toxicology report. Maybe we will learn about that some day, maybe not. But I do fault The Star for not doing more to get to the bottom of the other big question — how he ended up where he was when he crashed.

Ventura left a party in San Jose de Ocoa, in southern Dominican Republic, about 3 a.m., according to The Star, and was headed for Sangiovanni’s house in the city of Constanza. (She says the couple was attempting to reconcile.)

If Constanza was, indeed, his destination, he was taking a very strange route because Constanza is northwest of San Jose de Ocoa, while Ventura was driving northeast. What is known is that he crashed the Jeep about 5 a.m. in the city of Juan Adrian, about 28 miles northeast of his starting point. (He was averaging less than 15 miles an hour.)

Gregorian does not address the misdirection in his story, but an accompanying map offers this explanation: “The fastest route (to Constanza) is not direct and will take him through Juan Adrian.”


That cannot be right. It makes no sense. Take a look at the map (above) I got from Google. Ventura was going away from Constanza (along the blue line) on highway 201. (The blue line ends at the crash site.)

Constanza, as you can see, is just north of Parque Nacional Valle Nuevo (far left side of the map), off highway 410.

Now, maybe Ventura was lost, as The Star’s story suggests, but it appears virtually impossible that the route he was on is “the fastest route” to Constanza. According to the Google map, there are only two major highways heading north out of San Jose do Ocoa: One goes toward Juan Adrian, the other goes toward Constanza.

Ventura wasn’t a little off course; he was 45 degrees off.

After sending two reporters and two photographers to the Dominican Republic…after weeks of investigation….and after many news and feature stories, The Star, unhappily, still hasn’t unearthed a satisfactory account of what happened that fateful morning in the southern Dominican Republic.

Read Full Post »

Many reporters and other editorial employees who populated The Kansas City Star newsroom from the 1970s through the early 2000s — or parts of that period — are mourning the death Thursday Rick Alm, one of the grittiest journalists to ever step foot in the door at 18th and Grand.

Rick, who worked at The Star more than 30 years before being laid off in 2009, died from complications of prostate cancer. The last several days he had been in hospice care in Hutchinson, where he was living.

Always a striking presence in the newsroom, Rick presented an image somewhat reminiscent of Clark Gable in the 1934 Frank Capra movie “It Happened One Night.” Back in the days when ashtrays were part of the fabric of the newsroom, Rick would sit at his desk pounding out a story, one eye squinting, as smoke curled up around his face from a cigarette hanging down from his mouth.

When deep into a story, he would stride purposefully and heavily around the newsroom, brow furrowed and looking sufficiently intimidating to earn him the in-house nickname “The Alminator.”


Rick Alm

Rick’s first big score at The Star took place in 1981 at the time of the Hyatt Regency skywalks’ collapse. He and another reporter, Tom Watts, collaborated with a structural engineer named Wayne Lischka, whom The Star had hired to figure out what happened the night of July 17, 1981, when 114 people were crushed to death at a tea dance in the Hyatt lobby.

Poring over blueprints and design plans obtained from the city, Lischka determined that a late-construction change in the way the skywalks were suspended had greatly increased the stress and weight on the skywalks. Initially, the support rods were to have extended straight down from the ceiling along the sides of the two skywalks, but engineers decided instead to stagger the rods that suspended the lower skywalk from the upper one. The change was fatal.

For their combined coverage of the disaster — in no small measure because of Alm’s and Watts’ breakthrough story — The Star and The Kansas City Times (the morning edition of The Star) won a Pulitzer Prize for general local reporting in 1982.

Rick went on to spend many years in the Kansas City, Kansas, bureau — first as a reporter, then as bureau chief and back to reporter again — where he exposed the chronic chicanery of a core group of people benefitting from either their positions in city and county governments or their connections to government officials. During those years, Rick wrote about some “bad hombres” (none of them Hispanic) and did so fearlessly.

In that role, he helped lay the groundwork for the seminal election in April 1997, when Wyandotte County residents voted by a 60-40 ratio to combine the city and county governments under Mayor Carol Marinovich .

Consolidation, in turn, triggered the breathtaking economic turnaround that began with NASCAR’s decision in 1998 to build Kansas Speedway near I-435 and I-70.

By that time, Rick had moved on to The Star’s business desk, where he covered the budding casino gambling business in the Kansas City area. He worked on the business desk until leaving The Star in 2009.


Here now are the memories of several reporters who worked with Rick…


Roy Wenzl

Roy Wenzl, former Star reporter and now a reporter at The Wichita Eagle

(posted on Facebook)

In 1981 Rick ran into the Hyatt Regency hotel lobby right after the skywalks fell and made mental notes about the scene before they kicked him out. He ended up as one of the point writers on the Big Story published by The Star four days later. That story came about after Managing Editor Mike Waller ordered a structural engineer hired to look over the Hyatt plans and debris, along with reporters, including Rick. I was with the investigative team when the engineer showed his findings to us, pinpointing the collapse cause. Rick and Tom Watts were assigned to write it all up. Rick and I walked out of the room, and he lit up a smoke outside the door. “Wenzl,” he said, “we just won the f—ing Pulitzer Prize.” Which we did.



Mike Rice

Mike Rice, former Star reporter and now para-legal

(posted on Facebook)

Rick was my mentor. He was the first editor at the paper to take me seriously and give me real news assignments. I will never forget one of the first stories he put me on was the death of a teen-aged KCK boy from a car accident in Oklahoma. He found the parents’ address late in the day and told me to go to their house the next day and interview them. I remember being totally scared shitless that evening. Couldn’t get to sleep. He told me what to do, what to say to them. I didn’t feel I was ready to do something like this, but he said I was. I felt like a 4-year-old kid, and Rick was the dad who was teaching me to swim by throwing me in the deep end of the pool. I was either going to drown or float. I went to the house. The parents let me in, thanked me for my interest in their lost son’s life and talked to me for about an hour…Well, I was floating! The story appeared in the Sunday paper two days later.


Mike Waller


Mike Waller, former KC Star managing editor and later editor (now retired and living in South Carolina)

Rick was one of the first reporters to reach the Hyatt Regency hotel after its skywalks collapsed. He was there before the first responders and stayed until the police forced him to leave. We teamed him up with reporter Tom Watts and hired a structural engineer, Wayne Lischka, to help them interpret hotel blueprints and design plans that the city made available to The Star and The Times on Monday, July 20. Working with photographs taken of the hotel collapse scene on Monday morning and with copies of the design plans Monday night, Lischka discovered the collapse was caused by a design change that doubled the stress on the skywalks. The Star wrote that story on Tuesday, July 21, and Alm and Watts reported on the disaster for the next several months. They turned out to be a perfect team. Alm was a tenacious reporter, a bulldog unfazed by dead ends. Watts was a bit more cautious and methodical, an expert at developing sources. Both were dedicated to accuracy; I don’ recall ever publishing a correction on any of their work throughout their careers. The National Bureau of Standards issued its report in early 1982 on the cause of the collapse and cited The Star’s reporting as 100 per cent accurate. Rick continued his dogged investigative reporting the rest of his life.


Chris Lester


Chris Lester, former KC Star reporter and business editor and now a senior media relations manager for AT&T

(posted on Facebook)

You can draw a line to what was once great about The Kansas City Star through the prolific pens of people like Rick Alm. To be sure, he had a big hand in winning a Pulitzer Prize. Yet he didn’t flash ego, and he never lost his passion for the daily doings of local news. He was a true “grinder,” and I absolutely loved that about him. But Rick also was unfailingly supportive of those who followed him into the craft, and we were blessed to call him our mentor, colleague and friend. Newsrooms have always needed people like Rick, now perhaps more than ever. When Rick left the newspaper, I knew in my bones it was time for me to follow him out that door. If you buy the notion that the best newsrooms are like families, as I do, it feels like we’ve lost a big brother. He was a big man. But his heart was bigger. Tough guys are like that, sometimes. Tonight I’m going to drink a beer and shed a tear for Rick. He’ll be missed.


Phil O’Connor, former Star reporter, now with The Oklahoman

OPUBCO Employee, Phillip O'Connor ,Tuesday, June 5, 2012. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman

Phil O’Connor

Smoldering. That’s how I remember him. Yes, there were the  dangling cigarettes with the impracticably long ashes that he always seemed to be smoking. But more, I remember Rick Alm for his intensity. His relentlessness. His unending pursuit of story. I met him in 1984, in the KCK bureau, my first job out of college, a clerk watching in awe as the Alminator fearlessly covered the then-bareknuckled world of Wyandotte County politics. I can still see his powerful leg pumping as two meaty fingers furiously typed out  the latest scandal he’d uncovered.  And oh did he uncover scandal. He was a master of records research, an insightful interviewer in the incredulous style of Mike Wallace and a damn good story teller. He later became my boss. We often clashed — an immature kid (me) not ready to work as hard as he did. I regret that now. He just wanted me to be my best. I wasn’t. Still, I was watching. I was learning.


Tom Watts, former Star reporter, now retired and living in Kansas City

I knew Rick as a reporter in the newsroom, but we traveled in different groups. But that night changed everything, and we were joined at the hip for the next several months — not always happily. As with virtually every other reporter and editor at The Star and The Times, we spent hours at the scene trying to get any scrap of information that would help us understand what killed so many people. The choice I made that night was to try and observe the herculean efforts by firefighters and other rescue workers and the best place to do that was inside the hotel. After being told to leave several times, I found a spot on the second level of the lobby behind a large rubber plant where I successfully hid for several hours. During my watch there, a man walked by and warned me that the entire hotel was dangerous and I should take care. Our conversation revealed that he was a structural engineer who had already been hired by one of the firms that would likely be involved in the likely lawsuits that would arise from the tragedy. After a time he also agreed to work with me to keep my reporting accurate — as long as he remained anonymous because he feared his standing in national engineering circles might be damaged by getting involved in a newspaper project. Later that night, as The Star’s staff gathered at the paper to chart our coverage, Rick and I were among several reporters assigned to start digging for the cause of the collapse. Mike Waller, managing editor of The Star; David Zeeck, city editor; and Darryl Levings, an assistant city editor, oversaw our efforts, and a decision was made to hire a structural engineer to make sure our reporting was based on construction facts. My source identified Wayne Lischka as a young engineer who had once worked for him and had his own practice and might not face the same potential professional hazards of the more established engineer. Wayne agreed, and on Monday — armed with page numbers provided by my source — he and Rick examined the structural documents on file at City Hall. Their conclusion was the same as the one reached by my source, that a design change on the rods holding the walkways doubled stress and guaranteed that they would ultimately fail. As Rick apparently told another staffer, Roy Wenzl, that story was the Pulitzer. It may have been, but Rick and I rarely talked about that for fear that it would screw the chances. The two of us worked for months on elements of the cause and related stories. Waller and others have said we made a perfect team. That may have been clearer from the outside. It was true that Rick was aggressive and I was more conservative. If we came to a locked door, Rick was enthusiastic about kicking it down while I looked for a key. In the end, he got us through the door, and I picked up more nuances to the story in my search. We argued over our approaches and occasionally really got pissed at each other, but we got the stories we wanted and respected each other greatly at the end of the day.



Karen Dillon

Karen Dillon, former Star reporter and now a freelance investigative reporter

Rick was my bureau chief in Kansas City, Kansas, in the early 1990s, and he was one of a handful of hard-news editors whom I worked for over my career that I completely respected. Rick was what we call in the newspaper business a reporter’s editor. It wasn’t good writing and feature stories that brought him to the business. What lit up his eyes was a tough story about bad government. He saw his role in journalism as a watchdog, and that’s how he ended up with the story that led to The Star and Times winning the Pulitzer for the Hyatt hotel tragedy. But he was always humble about his part. He told me once over beers, when I was telling some folks that his work had resulted in the most sought after prize in journalism, that it had been a team effort. As the KCK bureau chief, he also wrote a weekly column. And boy, could he twist the knife in corrupt politicians in a way that was needed.


Here’s an example of that knife twisting, from a Rick Alm column Karen dug up from Star archives..



After months of behind-the-scenes haggling, the City Council in Kansas City, Kan., finally decided whose favorite good-ol’-boy lawyers would get appointed as new Municipal Court judges.

One of them is former Wyandotte County District Court Judge William M. Cook, who, on the very day he retired last month, disgracefully fouled that judicial nest.

Cook sentenced former Wyandotte County Commissioner Pat Scherzer to do 100 pushups — or something like that — for driving drunk and shattering the automobiles and lives of six innocent people.

In a rare move, the Kansas Attorney General’s office is appealing the sentence. Attorney General Bob Stephan, who characterized Scherzer as “gutter-sloppy drunk” the night of the accident, said there was “no excuse” for Cook’s 90-day, house-arrest wrist-slapping of Scherzer.

Now Cook will be dispensing equal justice for all in Municipal Court, where traffic tickets, housing-code violations and other misdemeanor and city ordinance cases are heard.

Because the cases are small ones, so are the maximum sentences that Municipal Court judges are permitted to mete out.

That should suit Minimum Bill just fine.


Rick’s survivors include four children, 10 grandchildren and a brother. He requested that his body be cremated and that there be no funeral. Former Star staffers are planning a party in his memory in Kansas City, Kan.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »