Kansas City Mayor Sly James knows that a city is only as strong as its people.
That was the message that resonated with members of the KC Downtowners as James elaborated on the renaissance underway in downtown Kansas City.
“The best and greatest asset of this city are the people. I feel more fortunate than you can imagine to be the mayor of the city I was raised in and that I love dearly while it is going through a renaissance, so thank you for allowing me that," he said. "You see the greatness of this city and what we don’t always take into account is how much greater we can and will be."
He discussed some of the most catalytic projects underway in the urban core of the city. Here are a few of the highlights.
URBAN YOUTH ACADEMY
“One of the things I am absolutely ecstatic about is the Kansas City Urban Youth Baseball academy," James said. "It is perhaps the most perfect project I’ve been involved in because it addresses multiple needs.”
The $17.5 million project has been funded by multiple donors, including the Major League Baseball Player’s Association, along with individual Kansas City Royals players, including Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer and Chris Young. The Royals will operate the academy for 20 years at no cost to the children and no cost to the city. It will be operate like a low-level minor league team, educating and engaging up to 1,000 kids ranging from 8 to 18 years old.
“It’s not just about baseball. In my mind, it’s about urban kids finally having something that suburban kids have always had access to. It will keep them off the street, teach them character and good citizenship and it is located in an area of the city that is in sore need of foot traffic."
Located at 18th and Vine behind the Negro Leagues museum, the academy will bring people to an area in need and bring kids to a place where they are wanted.
"Thousands of kids will develop character because of their interactions with adults in their lives who care about them and work with them, and that’s the real benefit of it in my mind."
James argued that the streetcar's initial 2-mile line has been a huge success.
“Four or five years ago in planning meetings for the streetcar, people told me we were out of our minds, and that this was a waste of money," James said. "Boy, were they wrong."
In its four months of operation, the streetcar has transported more than 835,000 passengers. Since day one, average daily ridership has exceeded expectations with about 6,800 riders per day. Those numbers outshine a slew of other streetcar systems across the country. By comparison, Salt Lake City and Atlanta’s 2-mile streetcar routes attract an average of 1,000 passengers a day. The streetcar in Tampa, Florida, averages only 600 passengers daily.
“The economic development of streetcar has been absolutely phenomenal. We crossed our fingers and projected about $500 million of development over the life of the streetcar, which is 30 years, but we reached $1.7 billion before it ever opened, and it’s still coming and still growing," the mayor said. "You see what’s going on down here, it’s not by accident.”
Kansas City is receiving national attention for its Smart City initiative.
"It’s making people across the country stand up and notice, and it is what’s putting us on the map.”
The $20 million project, of which $15.7 million is private sector money, is expected to receive a return on the investment within just seven years.
James encourages the public to consider the numbers when evaluating whether to expand the streetcar. Since 2014, sales tax revenue receipts in the city rose a steady 16 percent. However, in that same time period, sales tax revenue receipts in the streetcar Transportation Development District have risen a whopping 58 percent.
Additionally, the streetcar has helped to attract eight national conferences over the next seven years, which will contribute an added $32 million in economic growth to the city.
But Kansas City still has plenty room to grow, according to James. While the city has come a long way in such a short amount of time, the city is still plagued by lines of division, whether it's the digital divide or racial tensions across the Troost Avenue line.
“We won’t truly become a smart city until all areas of the city are connected," he cautioned. "Technology is merely a tool, and we should use it to make sure that everything we do is done in the light of how it improves the lives of our citizens.”