Downtown Kansas City looks vastly different than it did a decade ago.
From the dozens of vacant buildings converted into housing, to the brand new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, to the burgeoning Crossroads Arts District, to the advent of the Power and Light District and Crown Center renovations, the area has received an extreme makeover.
The Power & Light District is an attractive nightlife scene for young adults. With entertainment venues such as The Midland Theatre and The Sprint Center, Kansas City’s downtown has expanded to become an ideal destination for Kansas-Citians and visitors alike.
For many, the redevelopment shows promise, but for other residents, it comes at a price.
Since 2003, $5.5 billion has been invested to renovate downtown, according to the Downtown Council.
Many projects have benefited from Tax Increment Financing (TIF), property tax abatements granted by the city to redevelop blighted properties. In addition, Kansas City residents pay a $10.9 million/year subsidy to cover Power & Light’s debt obligations.
Some, including former mayor Mark Funkhouser, have voiced skepticism over the use of public subsidies.
Others argue the long-term benefits exceed the costs, citing downtown’s improved image and potential for spin-off development.
Crown Center and Union Station move forward
Once on the brink of financial collapse, Union Station, which benefited from a makeover funded by a special bi-state tax in 1999, is now fully leased.
The historic train station finished its second year in the black in 2011, thanks to new office tenants and popular exhibits.
Nearby Crown Center also has good news. The new SeaLife Aquarium and Legoland bring popular family destinations to the aging mall.
At the price tag of $30 million, funded privately, the aquarium alone will bring an estimated 800,000 visitors to Crown Center a year, adding family-oriented destinations to the downtown mix.
A streetcar in the works
After numerous light rail proposals have failed at the polls or proven unfeasible, a new proposal for a more modest downtown streetcar line has emerged.
If built, streetcars would run a 2.2 mile route on Main Street between the River Market and Crown Center, ideally improving public transit.
However, the $100 million price tag may be too much for some downtown residents, who will foot the bill for the streetcar with a newly-created tax district, if approved.
Less than 10 percent of eligible voters applied to participate in the ballot by the May deadline. According to The Kansas City Business Journal, there are 5,900 estimated registered voters within the specified boundaries. Only about 600 of those have applied.
The special property and sales taxes in the area would potentially increase to raise $75 million for building and operating the streetcar line. For the remaining expenses, the city applied for a $25 million federal grant.
Ballots to determine whether a special tax district should be created will be mailed to voters on June 19, and must be returned by July 31.
If approved, a second vote will determine whether or not special taxes will be implemented.
Spinoff development- A justification for P&L’s price tag?
The $46 million renovation of the formerly-vacant President Hotel under the Hilton flag, on the west side of Power and Light, occurred exclusively with private funds.
Its developer, Ron Jury, would like to convert the mostly vacant Power & Light Building nearby into a convention hotel. The $350 million redevelopment, however, would likely receive deep financial assistance from the city.
To the north of Power and Light and the Sprint Center, another hotel is in the making. The Gate City National Bank, at 1111 Grand Blvd., has undergone renovations to become a 43-room luxury boutique hotel.
According to The Kansas City Star, developer Paul Coury chose to renovate the bank into a new hotel largely because of Power and Light’s success and popularity.
The hotel, which Coury has named the Ambassador, will provide a lavish option for overnight guests and travelers.
Some believe that P&L’s cost will ultimately benefit the area despite its cost.
“Will it be an immediate success? No. It opened in a bad economy. But I see good things for the Power and Light District,” Coury told The Star.
He expects the daily rate for a room to average at $160, and plans to market special loft-style rooms to performers at the Kauffman Center or Sprint Center.
Coury plans for the hotel to open in July.