GETTING TO KNOW KANSAS CITY MEANS COVERING A LOT OF GROUND. PRODUCTIVE GROUND.
Suburban Spokes | Fueled by excellent highway and arterial access, the Kansas City region boasts a surprising number of diverse lifestyle options, from the Northland to Johnson County, proving that not all suburban living is the same.
So you want to know about Kansas City, do you? Well, for starters, you need to know that there are two of them: The bigger one is Kansas City, Misso-uri, and its smaller urban sister is Kansas City, Kansas.
And from those central-city cores, various suburban webs make up this sprawling, widely diverse collection of big satellites, mid-size bedroom communities and even communities with small-town feel that are still a part of what we call the metropolitan area.
In terms of our geography, Kansas City, Mo., is by far the largest city—measured by population, by land mass (the city’s geographic reach extends into four counties), and, to be candid, in terms of challenges facing its business climate as an older, urban-core city. Still, the city boasts many of the region’s prime locations, features and attractions—a Downtown that has benefited from a $7 billion makeover, the world-renowned Country Club Plaza shopping district, the remade Truman Sports Complex for both professional baseball and football, and an international airport that is about to receive a facelift, even though it is already regarded as virtually unparalleled in ease of use and access.
The biggest development story in the past generation has unfolded Downtown. Once a broad sweep of sparse offices and warehouses, it began to experience redevelopment traction in the 1990s with loft conversions. From residential desert, Downtown started to earn a reputation as a great place to live for young professionals, artists and empty-nesters fleeing their suburban mini-mansions for more manageable living spaces.
Services have followed, and a key piece of the equation has been filled in with the addition of a major Downtown grocery store to meet the needs of those residents. This area’s profile changed completely, though, with commercial development over the past few years, especially with sevral entertainment venues.
Other cities in the region, including the larger hubs of Topeka, Kan., and St. Joseph, Mo., both about an hour away from Downtown Kansas City, are also seeing a significant urban resurgence, as are the county-seat towns that ring the metropolitan area.
The broader area abounds with thriving retail centers. In this category, Johnson County, Kan., in the southwestern suburbs of Kansas City, is the clear leader. Its economic status to a large degree is due to its demographics. The most affluent county per capita in the area, its economic output in most categories is the leader in Greater Kansas City. Only adjacent Jackson County, Mo., with a much larger population, matches or exceeds its Kansas neighbor in any significant areas.
Dramatic change also has come to Wyandotte County, immediately across the state line in Kansas. On the western side of Kansas City, Kan., the Village West retail district has changed the fortunes of a community long considered an economic backwater in the region. The unique, unified government of this area was a key to the development of the Kansas Speedway, a significant achievement for the county when it was first announced as this region’s home for NASCAR racing in the late 1990s.
The region’s eastern gateway, as well, has seen dynamic change with developments near the Interstate 70/Missouri 291 interchange in Independence. Although Independence Center remains one of only two enclosed malls still operating in the region, little else developed until the city supported extensive road-work to open large areas to intense retail development. One of those was a powerful retail magnet: the biggest Bass Pro Shops unit in the region, not far from the 5,600 seat Sil-verstein Eye Centers Arena, a big draw for mid-range events.
To the north, major retail hotspots include the I-29/Highway 152 area in Platte County. This region includes the popular lifestyle center Zona Rosa and several nearby developments. While not quite equal in scale to retail corridors in Johnson County, Highway 152 in Platte County and through Clay County to Liberty is becoming another prime corridor.