As 2016 begins to take shape, City Manager Troy Schulte is reflecting on downtown Kansas City’s progress over the last year. January 2015 brought sky cranes to downtown for the first time since the 1980s, and the momentum has only gotten stronger. In a dialogue with the KC Downtowners on Wednesday, Schulte highlighted eight themes on the horizon in 2016, and encouraged local business leaders and residents to help move these priorities forward.
An election in April will determine the fate of the city’s 1 percent earnings tax, which provides 40 percent of the city’s general fund revenue. Schulte said about 74 percent of that money goes toward public safety costs, and that 50 percent of that money is paid by people that don’t live in Kansas City, Mo.
“It’s a fundamental source of revenue that pays the city’s bills,” he stressed. “I can tell you if we lost that earning tax, all of this [development] will stop. For the next decade we would retrench and figure a way to keep the doors open. We’re not in a competition with Leawood or Overland Park; I’m in competition with Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, and Seattle. If we fall behind, we will feel it in our GDP and our economic viability for decades. This is a critical vote.”
A group of Kansas City leaders today flooded the Missouri Legislature to oppose a measure to repeal the earnings tax in 2017, asking instead that the decision is left to the voters, The Kansas City Star reports.
New development projects are opening up the East Village for increased foot traffic and activity. The historic renovation of both the Pickwick Building and the Argyle Building is underway, and the Grand Reserve project is slated to bring a new hotel concept to the area.
“To me, those are important projects because it’s beginning to open that east village area. We’ve got a great developer in VanTrust, but the problem with the East Village is that we’ve got connectivity issues,” Schulte said. “It’s just far enough away that we don’t have enough street level activity. If you activate the Pickwick building, the Federal Reserve and the Argyle building, suddenly the conversation is about getting the east village area moving. Those are great opportunities for the city to move forward.”
The streetcar project is on time and under budget, Schulte said. Expect a grand kickoff in April, when the cars will officially be ready for ridership – but keep your eyes peeled, as riders could board as early as March.
Thanks to the Kansas City Royals cinching a World Series win, a whopping 800,000 people and millions of others watching the parade on TV were able to see downtown Kansas City in perhaps a new light they hadn’t seen before. Schulte says these are opportunities to reveal Kansas City to the rest of the world.
“Anyone who says professional sports doesn’t have an explicit value has never won a World Series,” he said. “People from all over the Midwest descended upon downtown Kansas City, saw the streetcar and everything else we have going on, and were blown away. The Royals run has already led to half a dozen or more new business contracts.”
What’s next? Maybe a Super Bowl celebration, he suggested.
CONVENTION CENTER HOTEL
Kansas City has another opportunity to showcase itself with the construction of a new 800-room downtown convention center hotel. Schulte said he hopes to break ground on that $300 million project by the first quarter of 2016. But before a shovel hits the ground, demand is already soaring. VisitKC is already beginning to sell conventions for 2019 and 2020 based on the concept alone.
“That tells you how hot Kansas City is. It’s now up to us to deliver, because we think there is ample opportunity for even more convention space and activity going forward,” he said. “Kansas City used to be a top ten market. There is no reason why we can’t be a top ten market again. We just have to make the investments and be aggressive in marketing what we take advantage of everyday.”
Other new hotels hitting the market – projects at 8th and Walnut, 13th and Locust, 16th and Baltimore – will only open up other opportunities that once passed the city by, like the Republican National Convention.
“The convention center hotel will fundamentally be a game changer for how this city deals with convention business nationally, and will raise the profile for these large events,” he said.
New smart city infrastructure will radically change downtown. Traffic signals will have automatic car detection and pedestrian sensing capabilities, LED lighting will save the city millions of dollars a year, and sensors will tell the city where snow or ice is accumulating and where parking issues are occurring.
“We’ll be able to manage those issues remotely and celebrate our response,” he said. “Smart City infrastructure is changing how we are perceived in the civic national and international community. We are constantly getting calls and visits from people with ideas who want to partner with us.”
On top of thousands of residential units in the pipeline, Cordish Company is leading the way as it prepares to hoist another sky crane at Truman and Grand in preparation for its next apartment project, Two Light. Soon a groundbreaking ceremony will commemorate the developer’s second 300-unit project, a $100 million investment in which the city is contributing roughly $17 million.
“We’re starting to see the fruits of the investment the city made ten years ago,” he said “That is a tremendous asset that will leverage a lot of assets as we move forward.”
As the city progresses toward its goal of 40,000 downtown residents, it’s also looking at new and innovative ways to handle city services. Schulte said that with increased construction across downtown, he’s bombarded with pedestrian issues – but that’s a good thing.
“That’s exactly what we need to do; Evolve and make the city itself much more aware of its pedestrian surroundings,” he said “We’re changing policies and procedures to protect pedestrian access.”
This includes enhanced crosswalks and streetscape projects, and even automated pedestrian crossing signals. The Downtown Council has entered into a contract with the city to provide services like maintaining tree wells and landscaping and helping with snow and ice removal.