By Joe Sweeney
I’ve heard somewhere that we embrace spring because it renews our sense that all things are possible. That’s especially true after such a long and ferocious winter. And this year, the possibilities surround us: Lawns and landscapes are bursting alive where snow piles sat for months. Baseball savants suggest the Royals could be a contendah in the American League’s Central Division. And Kansas City has emerged as one of six finalists for the 2016 Republican National Convention.
That last one, in particular, is worth pondering, because it holds the greatest potential for raising Kansas City’s profile. As one GOP official said after Phoenix and Columbus were eliminated this month, the eyes of the world will be on that host city during the convention.
That could be a time for this region to shine. Ten presidential elections have come and gone since the last time the GOP convention was held here, in 1976. We burnished our image then because of recent large projects like Kemper Arena where the convention was held, a new international airport, and a new dual-stadium sports complex. They reinforced the image that KC was forward-thinking and on the move.
It’s time to renew that mindset and reclaim that status. There’s no certainty that we’ll emerge as the winner for the ’16 convention; we’re up against five pretty tough competitors: Dallas, Las Vegas, Denver, Cleveland and Cincinnati. There seems to be a definite tilt toward Ohio in this process, perhaps for the GOP’s strategic reasons. But we’ve beaten the odds before, and if we do it again, it will be time for all of Kansas City—Republicans and Democrats, Missourians and Kansans alike—to help this community up its game. An announce- ment is scheduled for this summer or possibly fall, which would give us time to plan and announce new projects and nearly two years to put a polish on this region. Here are some starting points:
The streetcar project. I’m on record as opposing this from the start, because I didn’t like the way the vote was structured to win approval of a select few residents. But that fight is over: Work has started on it, and if we’re going to have a streetcar system, we need to make sure it’s the best, most practical one running.
Public safety. The rap on Kansas City—and unfortunately it may be a fair one—is that we’re more dangerous than most other cities, and many others that are larger than we are. We’ve got some trouble spots, for sure, that skew our crimes-per-100,000 residents baseline. But for the most part, we enjoy a low-crime quality of life in the metro area. And we compare favorably with those five other cities in terms of instances of violent crime. There’s time to fashion innovative strategies for addressing both the crime issue itself and doing more to publicize the relative safety of many neighborhoods.
Hometown ambassadors. The Downtown Community Improvement District’s yellow-jacketed ambassadors, or “bumble bees,” have done a great job working to improve that area. Why can’t we take that concept metro wide? We could flood this area with designated representatives who would direct visitors to hotels, restaurants and other points of interest during large-scale events like a presidential convention. It would be a great opportunity for collaboration involv- ing area suburbs and Kansas City, Mo.
Everything’s up to date in Kansas City? Well, no, actually, it’s not. The AMC sign still hovers over KC’s skyline after its move to Leawood, other logos adorn build- ings that are now multi-use, and we’re mis- sing signage from key players. We can also do more to spruce up entry points to the city with street- and highway-scaping, to mute some harsh views of industrial swaths.
The riverfront It still lies fallow decades after higher and better uses were proposed. We don’t have time to build a con- vention hotel to add to Downtown’s roster of amenities, but I believe there’s plenty of time to advance proposals for the riverfront and get key elements in place before June ‘16.
UMKC’s performing arts campus. It’s a great idea, but the fund-raising is slow. Without the private-side donations, the public and Kauffman dollars won’t be there. Let’s get this project completed by 2016.
Clean up our act. Civic, corporate and government accountability. Back in late 80s. my Kansas City Lawn & Garden Guide, in collaboration with KC Parks & Recreation, launched a program called “Boulevard Bea- utification Awards.” The competition stim- ulated pride in ownership among residents and businesses along KC’s boulevard system. Consider the benefits with engaging a pro- gram to challenge residents, businesses and cities to bring their properties up to pinnacle standards. At least along the parade route.
Two years ago, the baseball-watching world had its eyes on KC, when we hosted the 2012 All-Star Game. By all accounts, visitors were greatly impressed, if not surprised of the beauty of our city and how friendly and accommodating Kansas Citians were. Having lived in KC nearly my entire life and being aware of the investment and progress made, I have to be honest. KC should have substantially more visitors for conferences, meetings, hospital- ity and tourism. It is, as they say, our time!
We have an opportunity to impress with the prospect of winning the bid to host the 2016 GOP Convention. Regardless, wouldn’t you say there are things we could do to elevate the probability of attracting future conventions, large events and cor- porate investment from anywhere other than the other side of State Line?
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