Seed-money surge could rebuild Kansas City's inner city
The Kansas City Star
For 50 years, billions of dollars have seeded farm fields, growing new homes, businesses and shopping centers in the Northland, Johnson County and eastern Jackson County. At the same time the inner-city’s housing, population and commerce have decayed.
Change is long overdue.
After hours of meetings and work from a lot of people concerned about Kansas City, an action agenda emerged for the Urban Neighborhood Initiative.
It is to revitalize the area from Troost Avenue, U.S. 71, 22nd to 52nd streets with better housing, economic opportunities, jobs, businesses and other developments. The area is one of the five big ideas from the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City to improve the city.
The Chamber and United Way of Greater Kansas City officials who unveiled the plan said more specifics would follow. One thing that must be part of those specifics is how much money businesses, banks, the chamber, foundations and governments are willing to commit to radically improve the area where mostly black people live.
Funders should set aside at least a billion dollars for five years. It will be needed for new housing in vacant lots, added businesses and banks in abandoned storefronts, revitalizing the mostly empty Linwood Shopping Center with a grocery store and shops, and putting retail outlets back on Troost Avenue where department stores once were. New urbanism has nothing on legacy communities.
Such an infusion of seed money would attract more privately funded homeowners, businesses and capital to feed growth near downtown. Bruce R. Watkins Drive also serves as a major thoroughfare carrying people and commerce.
It made no sense that the area was allowed to deteriorate for so long. But racism makes no sense. One developer wrote on Facebook about the importance of the urban core plan and the need for dedicated financing to end the blight, “As long as a brick you buy for a $1 at Lowe’s drops in value by 30 percent when you use it to build a house east of Troost Avenue, there will be a need to subsidize development in those neighborhoods.”
He pointed out that the government is subsidizing developments elsewhere.
Tax breaks went to the Power & Light District, Zona Rosa in the Northland and developments on the Plaza. In Kansas City, Kan., the Kansas Speedway and Village West picked up government help.
In Independence, Bass Pro is an example of a government subsidized development. Overland Park has many government-assisted projects.
In Olathe, the Great Mall of the Great Plains stands out. The suburbs have grown and developed with public help.
It’s past time for the inner city to get a piece of the pie. It could be combined with private dollars and projects overseen by a board made up of key investors.
Some oversight would help ensure that the existing low- and no-income residents would not be displaced. After all, they never abandoned the area. Others did.
In addition, the chamber could help push a one-eighth-cent sales tax proposed in January at the fifth annual Urban Summit in Kansas City. It’s a good idea to inject new capital into the area bounded by Ninth to 71st streets and from Troost to Indiana avenues.
Summit leaders said they thought that if voters in some Kansas City area counties could pass an eighth-cent sales tax to improve the zoo, then certainly residents should consider a sales tax to benefit neighborhoods where people live. But efforts to collect close to 4,000 signatures to put the proposal on the ballot never materialized.
A billion dollars for the chamber’s designated area, millions of dollars in federal stimulus money for the Green Impact Zone, sales tax revenue targeted for urban core neighborhoods and a once-proposed inner-city tax-free zone would help stir new possibilities and make our urban core a standout nationwide.
But for now, all of that is just a lot of talk proposed by people who want to see improvements with new residents helping to remake long-suffering areas. One day it could take root and start to grow.
It just needs unstoppable urban pioneers and the right amount of seed money to turn the barren ground into a thing of wonder and joy.
To reach Lewis W. Diuguid send call 816-234-4723 or send email to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.