By Ashlee Hendrix
Bright and gleaming buildings, lush green lawns and people-packed sidewalks are just some of the imagery painting Downtown Kansas City these days. It’s a vision that was lying heavy in the minds of urban planners, city councils and downtown leadership organizations years ago. The picture that is taking shape in Kansas City is one that the nation can’t help but notice. Recently the Huffington Post named Kansas City as the No. 1 cool city in America, citing amazing food, affordable entertainment and nice people.
Travel and Leisure chose Kansas City as America’s Most Affordable Getaway for the fourth consecutive year and the third-best city overall.
With these national titles and attention, it’s reason to celebrate and luckily for Kansas City there are many places to do so, especially in Downtown KC.
Power & Light District
Call it ground zero of the Downtown renaissance. The Power & Light District took the desolate parking lots and vacant buildings of 15 years ago, and turned them into 500,000 square feet of bars and restaurants to meet with friends and have fun again Downtown. And although the district came at a hefty price tag—roughly $850 million in public and private investment, and nearly $14 million in annual subsidies to make up for a shortfall in revenue projections—it served as an icebreaker for encouraging other investment Downtown.
Additionally, with the help of the Kansas City Live area serving as a venue for free concerts and a place to watch sporting events like the World Cup, Sporting Kansas City, Big 12 basketball or the Chiefs and Royals, interest in going Downtown grows with each special sporting even throughout the year.
Derek Ryan, Manager of McFaddens in the Power & Light District says the big focus is all about working together to provide an experience for everyone.
“I think the main thing we have to offer is we have a venue to fit the needs of many people,” Ryan said.
He said the Power & Light District provides a big night out on the town in a central location for many people not just in Kansas City metro but for visitors from all over the country.
The multi-use district currently features the Midland Theatre, a venue hosting more than 125 concerts, family shows, award shows, corporate and charitable events each year, as well as Cosentino’s Market, a full-service grocery store that is considered key to driving residential growth—more of which is on the way with projects like One Light Tower, luxury apartments that will open in 2015, or the Commerce Tower
The bowl-shaped, 19,000 seat complex has become the central hub for sports and musical entertainment. Musical acts from The Black Keys to Elton John have graced the stage since the center opened in the fall of 2007, as well as numerous sporting events from basketball to hockey. Named the eighth-busiest arena in America, it exceeded its attendance and fiscal projections for 2012-2013. It achieved that lofty ranking even though the professional sports franchise it was created for never materialized. Yet the venue rose above expectations and brought in big-name acts from all over the country.
Sprint Center has paid back in a big way, in its first five years it generated more than $660 million in added
economic output and helped create 1,361 annual average jobs in the state of Missouri since its opening in October 2007.
“Since opening in 2007 we’ve welcomed 7 million people to events and diversity has been a catalyst for drawing people Downtown,” said Shani Tate Ross, vice president of marketing and communications for Sprint Center. “The more events and different types of entertainment we offer help more people have interest in visiting Downtown Kansas City.”
Crossroads Arts District
Home to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and First Fridays, the Crossroads offers all kinds of venues for art enthusiasts. The first Friday of each month, thousands of visitors gather to take in the local artwork in this creatively tuned-in district. Sit down for new American Cuisine presented by 1999 James Beard Award winning chef Michael Smith at his restaurant Michael Smith. Smith is also the owner of Tapas restaurant, Extra Virgin, and is a consultant in the fast-casual concept, SPIN Pizza, based in Leawood.
Music lovers also flock to the Crossroads KC at Grinders, which features an outdoor venue for live music, or the Green Lady Lounge, featuring live jazz without a cover. John Scott, owner/manager of the Green Lady, believes that the tradition of great nightlife in Kansas City has deep roots.
“Kansas City has an historic tradition of rich night life that included the popular music of the day,” he said. “During Prohibition, Kansas City was seedily fortunate enough to have leaders who played loose with federal dictates regarding recreation (booze). This doesn’t mean there was wholesale lawlessness, but they left room and opportunity for nightlife and thus music to flourish.”
Scott believes that jazz has remained vital and alive in Kansas City.
“Just as rock ‘n’ roll didn’t stop with Grey and the Pacemakers, Kansas City jazz didn’t end or, in my opinion even peak, with Big Joe Turner. Once the Kansas City jazz seeds were planted in the fertile ground of KC’s bar scene, it grew,” he said.
Arts & Theater
Downtown offers many different venues for theater lovers to explore; the Copaken Stage, The Coterie, Folly Theater, Fringe Festival, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Music Hall, Quality Hill Playhouse and Off Center Theatre. The Folly Theater has served as a showplace for the performing arts since 1900. The Kauffman Center opened in September 2011 and is home to the Kansas City Ballet, Lyric Opera and Kansas City Symphony as well as other programming. Since its opening it has hosted nearly 900 public performances welcoming more than 1.3 million audience members and guests through its doors.
Paul Schofer, the center’s president and CEO, believes the diverse programming and iconic architecture continue to shine a spotlight on Kansas City’s own vibrant arts community and attract national and international attention. CNN recently reported that the center was one of only two American venues included in Emporis’ rankings of the top 15 of the “world’s most spectacular concert halls.”
“The arts are thriving in KC, and Kansas Citians have embraced the Kauffman Center as their home for the performing arts in our community,” Schofer said. “Kansas City is becoming known as America’s Creative Crossroads and I believe members of our community understand the honor and pride that comes along with that identity.”
Manifesto offers a speakeasy tucked into a private lounge that takes guests back to the Prohibition era. Owner, Ryan Maybee, Imbibe magazine’s 2013 bartender of the year, introduced the small 48-seat cocktail bar that takes a labor-intensive approach to making drinks. Guests must first make reservations.
On the northwest corner of Downtown, The Quaff is a Kansas City original known for its neon signs lighting up Quality Hill since 1946 and serves as a valued neighborhood sports bar. Not far away, those looking for a little bit of France in the Paris of the Plains can take in Le Fou Frog in the River Market area; foodies proclaim the spot as a traditional and innovative French fare.
To the south, at the gateway between Downtown and Midtown, the Martini Corner area around 31st and Gillham offers a venue of six different nightspots—martini bars, sports bars, wine and beer bars, and outdoor patios within the entertainment district.
So no matter if guests are looking for live music venues big or small, theater, arts or exciting sports teams, unique cocktails and award-winning cuisine, Kansas City has something to offer everyone for a fun night out on the town.