AT THE CENTER OF A NATION, A CITY TEEMS WITH THRIVING COMMUNITIES.
It is also somewhat confusing, because this diverse area has so many types of economic activities. While one of the area’s strengths is its lack of reliance on a single industry, this diversity complicates any attempt at a simple generalization.
Geographically, the city of Kansas City, Mo., is the largest city. Not surprisingly, it is home to a number of the region’s prime locations. Downtown Kansas City, with an economic rebirth that is approaching $7 billion since 2002, is arguably the most significant—economically, demographically, even culturally.
Kansas City’s urban core began its rebirth in the late 1990s when its many empty offices and warehouses first became popular for loft conversions. The trend gained significant economic steam not long after 2000, and by mid-decade, the movement had become dramatic.
The housing slowdown during the Great Recession significantly slowed a hot condominium market, which gave way to a wave of market-rate rental units that have exploded across the greater Downtown region post-Recession. What has put this area in the national limelight are retail and especially entertainment developments. A $276 million arena, an $850 million, nine-block entertainment district, and a $414 million performing-arts center generated activity that Downtown had not seen in decades.
Almost overnight, Downtown went from what was described as a “hole in the donut” to the area’s crown jewel. As in other parts of the nation, this new interest in older urban areas is not limited to Kansas City. St. Joseph and Topeka have also seeing a significant urban resurgence, along with other smaller cities such as Sedalia, Warrensburg and Harrisonville. Lawrence, with its built-in student market from the University of Kansas, never lost its vital downtown.
Thriving retail areas best indicate much of the region’s other economic activity. In this category, Johnson County, in the southwestern suburbs on the Kansas side, is the clear leader. The county’s 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, with a much larger population, matches or exceeds its Kansas neighbor in any significant areas.
In simple terms, Johnson County’s growth has taken three directions over the past decade. The most dramatic is to the south, where the largest and most affluent cities such as Overland Park, Olathe and Leawood continue to develop. Though less broad, Johnson County’s westward expansion has been significant. Communities such as Lenexa and DeSoto have witnessed residential and significant commercial development, especially along Kansas Highway 10. Because of its link with Lawrence and Kansas University, this route is being tagged as the “Smart Corridor” and promoted for development by high-tech firms, including some of the area’s life science efforts.
Kansas City’s urban twin sister, Kansas City, Kan., has also been in on the development turn-around. And the most dramatic example of that is its Village West development in western Wyandotte County. The unique, unified city/county government helped fund the nearby Kansas Speedway a generation ago, then used that attraction to help bootstrap a 750,000- square-foot entertainment and retail area that has become
the most popular destination in Kansas.
That has led to both office space and residential construction, most notably with the decision by Cerner Corp. to expand its footprint in the metro area with a pair of towers near Village West that are home to more than 4,000 employees. The 2011 opening of what is now Children’s Mercy Park, home to pro soccer franchise Sporting Kansas City, further established that area’s power to attract consumers to dining, shopping and entertainment venues.
With little exaggeration, almost every community in Greater KC with significant highway or interstate access continues to enjoy the benefits of notable development that began in earnest with the 21st century.