The southern and central portions of downtown Kansas City are humming along, with new construction, development and businesses regularly popping up. So the time has come for the city to redirect its focus to the north—specifically to the north loop and the mile of interstate that makes up the north side of the downtown freeway.
Earlier this year, the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City hired the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Advisory Services Program to conduct a study of the area and make recommendations to the EDC and the City of Kansas City, Mo., as to what the future might hold for that area.
The timing was just right to start working on that part of the city, said Bob Langenkamp, the EDC’s president and CEO.
“The area is an important connector between the central business district and the River Market,” he said.
There are also lingering issues with the north side’s infrastructure, including the Buck O’Neill Bridge; questions about how, when and if to cover Interstate 670; and, generally, how to make the area more of an economic engine for the city.
“That all led to the request to bring the ULI in,” Langenkamp said.
The ULI panel was led by Glenda Hood, former Florida secretary of state and a former mayor of Orlando. Other members included urban planners, designers and architects from around the country.
It was important to have outsiders look at the area and offer suggestions, Langenkamp said.
“It’s an opportunity to bring people from around the country to hear different perspectives,” he said. “It’s a good struture for facilitating a different perspective. They’ve not heard about the area or issues for years and years and years. They are completely neutral.”
The panel’s initial report calls for nine initiatives to redevelop and reenergize the area:
- Develop a downtown master plan.
- Get creative with outreach strategies to bring in a wider, more diverse set of community partners.
- Leverage education program momentum.
- Work on improving regional cooperation.
- Expand the KC Streetcar lines.
- Focus on downtown infill for immediate development.
- Bring Route 9 back to grade.
- Reconnect Independence Avenue to downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
- Integrate the North Loop vision in a city strategic visioning exercise.
While all the recommendations are worthwhile and necessary, obviously they can’t all be accomplished overnight. The market, finances and, in some cases, elections play a role in what happens next, Langenkamp said.
In terms of prioritization, there is a strong consensus that bringing Route 9 back to grade is at the top of the list.
“That would improve the connection of Columbus Park to the River Market,” Langenkamp said, “and enable us to work on reconnecting to the rest of Independence Avenue.”
The panel will deliver its final report by the end of the year, and then the hard work really starts—implementation.
That has to be a grassroots effort, he stressed. Already there is great interest from a variety of constituencies. Corporate, residential, small business and other partners are watching and ready to jump in, Langenkamp said.
“There are a number of people and groups who believe in the recommendations strongly enough and will be willing to put in the work,” he said.