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Retiring City Manager Troy Schulte Reflects on Downtown’s Revival and Future

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(Editor’s note: City Manager Troy Schulte announced this week he plans to retire in February after serving 10 years in the job. He was given an opportunity to speak to the Downtown Council’s 3rd Annual Office Summit Wednesday.

Schulte reflected on what’s been accomplished downtown during his tenure and what he’d like to see moving forward. The following is a slightly edited transcript of his comments to the group.)

“This has been a great partnership over the last decade with the city willing to get behind big ideas to move it forward.

There were a thousand reasons why we shouldn’t build a convention hotel, there were a million reasons why we shouldn’t put a streetcar in, there were a million reasons why market-rate housing wouldn’t work downtown.

This group and others came together and said it was important for the city. The heart of this region is downtown. If the heart of the region is strong the region will be strong.

I appreciate the work of Mayor James going back the last eight years in finding a way to make things happen, but what I would encourage you to do is stay involved and stay active.

Ten years ago we had a downtown housing summit and we said wouldn’t it be great if we could get market-rate housing in downtown Kansas City? Several thousand units later we’ve got a real robust downtown housing market.

Those are the types of issues where an idea permeates and is allowed to germinate and move forward.

City Manager Troy Schulte announced this week he’s retiring after serving 10 years.

Whether it’s a downtown arena, downtown entertainment district, streetcar, convention center hotel, performing arts center, ballroom at the convention center, all of those issues have been allowed to move forward.

The question before us today is how do we jumpstart really the last remaining sector in that downtown economy which is office?

This was the job center in the metropolitan area and over the course of 40- to 50 years we ceded that job center to the suburbs, and to the Country Club Plaza and to the Ward Parkway corridor.

All of those are nice attractive areas, but the heart of business needs to be in downtown Kansas City.

My one request of all of you is do not rest on our laurels. If you look back at our history in Kansas City we have a tendency to have a burst of activity, and then we kind of declare victory and we go to sleep for 20 years.

That cannot happen if the city is to continue to move forward. Great cities either move forward or they fall behind. They can’t just stand still.

A development plan for the proposed Strata speculative office building is now before the City Council. (Image from HOK and BNIM)

There is no such thing as a too bold idea. If it’s spec office let’s figure out a way to make speculative office work.

There’s a proposal sitting in front of the City Council now that would move that conversation forward. We’ll see if they want to move it forward.

There may be an opportunity for a downtown baseball park. We need to pursue that, we need to be aggressive and not let the opportunity pass us by.

If there’s interest, there has to be a willingness for people to roll up their sleeves, sharpen their pencils and make the math work, and then go out and tell the voters, the residents of this city, why it’s important.

I think the track record over the last decade says if you make a compelling argument, tell them why it’s important, the citizens will respond whether it’s general obligation bond with two-thirds approval or a Kansas City International terminal with 76.4 percent approval.

I’ve had a blast working with all of you the last 10 years to move not only downtown KC forward, but get the whole metropolitan area moving forward with a lot more vitality.

Downtown is now something the whole region can be proud of. It’s on the map. Let’s keep it on the map, keep pushing forward.

It’s too important for all of us that downtown, the heart of the city, continues to thrive and pull the rest of the region forward.”

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