Published January 26th, 2022 at 6:46 AM
A strategic plan that encompasses neighborhoods more than a mile from Kansas City’s skyscrapers and envisions downtown as an economic catalyst for that larger area was rolled out Tuesday by the Downtown Council.
The new Imagine Downtown KC 2030 Strategic Plan was two years in the making and seeks to build on the progress in the downtown core from the River Market to Crown Center since the current revitalization push began in the early 2000s.
“The foundation of the new plan builds upon the vast improvements and resilience over the past 20 years that define the heart of downtown in 2022,” said Bill Dietrich, Downtown Council president and CEO.
“The vitality of today’s downtown allowed us to leverage this strength to elevate the greater downtown community into an equitable, inclusive and vibrant heart of the region.”
The Imagine Downtown KC plan was revealed at a gathering at the Negro League Baseball Museum that included Mayor Quinton Lucas.
“A great city and a great region has a great downtown,” Lucas said.
“It isn’t just office buildings, although that’s an important part, it’s cultural spaces, it’s new amenities, it’s respecting so many cultures and it’s us making sure we have key foundational support and investment for all the different ideas that we have.”
While the new strategic plan identifies several previously discussed “catalytic projects” including a downtown ballpark, decking the South Loop, and improving parks and green spaces, it also addresses how downtown should relate to nearby neighborhoods.
“Perhaps the most important opportunity for profound change lies in the vital neighborhoods surrounding the downtown,” the report stated.
“These neighborhoods … hold untapped opportunities to become thriving community centers. However, some of these neighborhoods have been neglected and subjected to underinvestment.”
The Imagine Downtown KC vision call for a more “equitable downtown” that spreads its economic benefits and is better connected with adjoining neighborhoods. The ultimate goal is ensuring a more livable city for everyone.
The strategic planning process began in March 2020 and was led by the Downtown Council, a private organization of property owners and businesses. MIG, a national consulting group, guided and prepared the final report.
It involved hundreds of participants including long-time downtown stakeholders and “emerging voices” from 22 neighborhoods and districts. The resulting 100-page Imagine Downtown KC plan came up with 180 recommendations for downtown’s near future.
“Participants were asked to think deeply and challenge conventional wisdom, particularly in the face of a global pandemic and a local awakening to racial injustice and social inequity,” Jason Parson, chair of the plan’s implementation committee, said in a statement.
To help achieve that goal of embracing nearby neighborhoods such as the Westside and Independence Plaza, the plan calls for major improvements in east-west connectivity along Independence Avenue, 12th Street and 18th Street.
Suggestions include better pedestrian and bicycling access and public transit upgrades such as bus rapid transit and possible streetcar expansion.
It also supports removing the North Loop and lowering Missouri 9 to grade. Those changes would remove major barriers between downtown and the River Market, as well as nearby neighborhoods in northeast Kansas City.
The larger goal calls for “reimagining” the entire downtown freeway Loop, by removing or minimizing its barriers. That includes decking the South Loop with a four-block park, and reconnecting the CBD with the Crossroads District.
Other green projects include rebuilding Barney Allis Plaza, supporting the proposed Greenline recreational trail, repurposing the old Buck O’Neil Bridge as a linear park and using Washington Square Park as an “activity zone” for the 2023 NFL Draft.
The biggest catalytic project would be a new downtown ballpark for the Royals, an endeavor that has the support of majority owner John Sherman. The six-block East Village area northeast of City Hall is considered a prime potential location.
“Cities that have developed downtown ballparks have experienced substantial secondary economic development,” according to the Imagine KC strategic plan.
“These unique assets have a multiplier effect in an urban context, and Kansas City has an opportunity to build a state-of-the-art urban ballpark in downtown with new and enthusiastic owners who value the urban experience.”
The task of implementing the Imagine KC vision will be led by Parson; Lynn Carlton, HOK regional leader of planning, and Dr. Kimberly Beatty, chancellor of the Metropolitan Community College.
They will lead a committee of 20 representatives of community and neighborhood groups, businesses, and civic and government entities who will begin meeting in February.
“The plan was created in alignment with other civic organizations, the city and downtown neighborhood leaders,” Beatty said.
“As we turn to implementation, we will continue to work in concert with these partners.”
Flatland contributor Kevin Collison is the founder of CityScene KC, an online source for downtown news and issues.