Liveblog: ULI Rose Center Kansas City Study Visit

Jess Zimbabwe's picture
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I'm writing from the audience of a presentation this morning in the Hotel Phillips in Kansas City. The presentation will cover the initial observations and recommendations of a national team of experts who've been invited here by Mayor Sly James and his team of Daniel Rose Fellows.

The Kansas City Daniel Rose Fellows:

  • The Honorable Sly James, Mayor
  • Bob Langenkamp, Assistant City Manager for Economic Development
  • John McGurk, Mayor's Chief of Staff
  • Bridgette Williams, Deputy Director, Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City; incoming Chair, Economic Development Corp. of Kansas City
  • Host City Team Coordinator: Kerrie Tyndall, Assistant to the City Manager

The Kansas City Study Visit Panel:

  • Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, Principal, Wallace Roberts & Todd, LLC, Philadelphia, PA (co-chair)
  • Nadine Fogarty, Principal, Strategic Economics, Berkeley, CA (co-chair)
  • Andre Brumfield, Principal, AECOM, Chicago, IL
  • Jim DeRentis, Founder, Markham + DeRentis Associates Residential Properties Ltd.; Chair, Providence Redevelopment Agency, RI (Daniel Rose Fellow)
  • Aliza Gallo, Economic Development Coordinator, Community and Economic Development Agency, City of Oakland, CA (Daniel Rose Fellow)
  • Glenda Hood, President, Hood Partners, LLC, former Mayor of Orlando and Florida Secretary of State, Orlando, FL (Rose Center Advisory Board Member)
  • David Kooris, Vice President, Regional Plan Association, Stamford, CT
  • Christopher Kurz, President & CEO, Linden Associates, Inc., Baltimore, MD
  • Bob McDonaugh, Acting Administrator, Economic and Urban Development Department, City of Tampa, FL (Daniel Rose Fellow)

Mayor James asked the Panel to look at the West Bottoms neighborhood, a low-lying peninsula of land adjacent to downtown, and lying between Kansas City, Missouri's downtown and that of Kansas City, Kansas. Historically, this area was very active with immense stockyards, and was the center of the region's economy as it grew to national prominence. The area is now home to many active industrial uses including distribution, sewage treatment facilities, and light manufacturing. There are dozens of handsome, historical warehouse buildings, a handful of which have been recently re-occupied by antiques dealers, art galleries, and entertainment uses (including a handful of seasonal haunted houses that draw 125,000 visitors annually). South of the active industrial uses and the historic core of the West Bottoms lies a complex of buildings that is activated by its use as the headquarters of American Royal, an organization that promotes agriculture through heavily attended parades, horse and livestock shows, agricultural exhibitions, and an annual barbecue that draws over 100,000 visitors. 

This diverse assembly of land uses as the Bottoms' low-lying geography and lack of at-grade access has proved challenging to the redevelopment of the West Bottoms. As such, and in recognition of the area's importance for the region's heritage and its physical location between the two largest downtowns of the region. Mayor James has an excellent working relationship with Mayor Joe Reardon of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County (Kansas City, Kansas), and the two mayors see the West Bottoms as a way they can take their spirit of collaboration off paper and make it a physical reality. (About 1/3 of the land in the West Bottoms lies in Kansas, though it is separated from the rest of Kansas City, Kansas by the Kaw River.)

The panel toured the West Bottoms and held several rounds of stakeholder interviews with business owners, land owners, developers, brokers, city and state officials, architects, planners, major employers, business executives, and representatives of major institutions in the area.

The panel observed that Kansas City, Missouri is blessed by strong civic pride, high-capacity to participate in public-private partnerships, a committed philanthropic community, and a significant cluster of agribusiness that both reflect the region's history and indicate a direction for its economic future.

The Panel's short-term recommendations include:

  • improved signage in the West Bottoms, including markers of gateways to the area
  • buffer outdoor storage and other challenging uses with landscaping
  • create an inter-jurisdictional policing agreement to impact perceptions of safety in the area
  • establish and codify the right of existing land uses to maintain their businesses as the area evolves
  • draft a zoning overlay to enable live-work and residential uses in the West Bottoms
  • improve streets to maximize on-street parking in the area
  • establish interim uses for undeveloped spaces, including the American Royal facilities on days that are currently not programmed

The Panel's long-term recommendations include: 

  • BRT (and eventually LRT) stops in the district
  • complete the partially existing pedestrian and bicycle trail under I-70
  • recruit animal sciences related businesses to the area
  • develop the riverfronts for recreational access, including a riverfront activity center
  • advocate for access to I-70 (which currently runs over the West Bottoms on a viaduct but does not touch down) 

The Panel also discussed two "Big Ideas":

1. Connect downtowns to catalyze development

The panel observed that transit can have a major impact on property values and development potential. In the 1880's the West Bottoms was served by four different fixed trolley lines. Even a rubber-tired circulator connecting KCMO and KCK through the West Bottoms would be a powerful economic driver. This circulator could be phased to ensure that it doesn't compete with the planned streetcar in downtown KCMO (which is a priority for Mayor James). Panelists pointed to a precedent in the BRT line between Eugene and Springfield, Oregon.

2.  Connect the "green" and the "blue"

The panel proposed a continuous river-to-river greenway that would allow access to the river at opportune points between the existing levees and active waterfront uses. This greenway could be marked with signage that promotes the incredible history of this piece of land, which includes a role in the Underground Railway, as slaves crossed the river at this point into Kansas, a free state. 

The panel concluded with the need for a bi-state collaborative vision, for strategic and agressive management of public assets in the West Bottoms, and for investment in the public realm to connect the West Bottoms to the rest of the region.

Here is a copy of the Panel's presentation to Mayor James from 1/13.  

My photographs of this Study Visit, including photos of the West Bottoms.

More information on the Daniel Rose Fellowship.

This study visit is a part of a year-long engagement with the team of Kansas City Daniel Rose Fellows, so we'd welcome any input you have, especially if you have any familiarity with the West Bottoms.

 

Jess Zimbabwe is the Executive Director of the ULI Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership.

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