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ULI Experts Recommend Holding Off on North Loop, Focus on Improving Highway 9 and Independence Avenue Instead

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2 minute read

By Kevin Collison

The North Loop freeway that divides the River Market from the rest of downtown won’t be going away anytime soon if the advice of a panel of national urban planning experts is followed.

Bottom line, there’s too much easily developable land already available downtown to make it cost effective to redevelop the North Loop corridor, concluded the group from the Urban Land Institute.

“Our panel believes now is not the optimal time to pursue redevelopment in that area,” said Glenda Hood, the chairwoman of the ULI panel and the former mayor of Orlando, Fla.

The group of experts was invited by the city last week to study the North Loop, a stretch of Interstate 70, and come up with strategies for its future including removing it, replacing it with a boulevard and/or decking it.

Although no cost estimates were provided, Adam Weers, a principal at Trammell Crow from Washington D.C., said real estate values downtown would not make the expense of any of those redevelopment options worthwhile, at least on a market basis, until at least 2028.

“The city should prioritize its investments,” Weers said. “Pursuing development on the North Loop would not be a wise investment today.”

The ULI panel believes removing or downgrading the North Loop won’t make economic sense until at least 2018.

Instead, the panel suggested the city’s priorities in the North Loop study area should be to repair or replace the aging Buck O’Neil Bridge, lower Missouri 9 to grade and reconnect Independence Avenue.

“The barriers of bringing Highway 9 back to grade are far fewer than the North Loop and the benefits are great,” said Bill Clarke, a planning consultant from Ross, Cal.

Those ULI suggestions matchup with preliminary proposals being examined in a separate “Beyond the Loop” study currently being conducted by the Mid-America Regional Council.

Currently, Missouri 9 crosses the River Market atop an embankment that not only cuts off the River Market from the Columbus Park neighborhood to the east, but also blocks Independence Avenue.

Lowering the highway to grade level would reconnect those two neighborhoods and restore Independence Avenue as a primary artery between downtown and northeast Kansas City.

“Independence Avenue is important for neighborhoods and businesses as a corridor,” said John Paul Weesner, a landscape architect from Orlando, Fla., “and it also would help the River Market connect to downtown as well.”

If the city did decide to make major investments to redevelop the North Loop itself, it could free up 30 acres of land, and attract up to 3.5 million square feet of office and residential development, Weers says.

“But there are numerous alternative development sites around the area that would cost less than redeveloping the North Loop,” he said.

Independence Avenue is stopped short of the River Market by the Missouri 9 embankment.

About 120 people came to the Kansas City Power & Light Energy Center downtown to hear the ULI panel’s observations. The group’s visit was sponsored by the city.

“We appreciated having experts with a different set of perspectives and points of view,” said Bob Langenkamp, executive director of the Economic Development Corp. of Kansas City.

“They gave us a good set of recommendations and a plan to move forward.”

This article appeared originally on the KCUR public radio website.

While the Urban Land Institute doesn’t believe it’s cost effective yet, here are two examples of how the North Loop could be redeveloped in the future:

One option calls for capping the North Loop to create redevelopment opportunities.

Another option calls for replacing the freeway with a boulevard, opening land for redevelopment.

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