The conversation regarding the development opportunity of a generation is heating up in Kansas City.
To make sure the city is ready, the Economic Development Corporation and the City of Kansas City, Missouri convened a national team of real estate and land use professionals to provide recommendations on how to forward.
The focus area was the North Loop, a portion of the downtown freeway system that physically divides the now-thriving River Market neighborhood from the rest of downtown. With the necessary replacement of the Buck O’Neil Bridge looming, plans for future connections and configurations of the larger roadway system called into question the utility of the North Loop’s aging design.
This obsolete configuration harbors a crash rate that exceeds the state average by 150 percent, and redundant routes available for relocation support the possibility of closure and repurposing of this nearly 70-year-old roadway.
The 32-acre expanse that divides the city is a massive real estate development opportunity in the heart of the booming downtown. Redevelopment of the North Loop has the potential to reconnect neighborhoods torn apart by shortsighted mid-century development.
The Urban Land Institute (ULI) is a national organization dedicated to the responsible use of land to create thriving communities. Through its National Advisory Services program, ULI brings together a broad base of national real estate professionals to dig into specific challenges and opportunities at the request of community organizations. These ad hoc teams do the hard work of analyzing plans from a land development perspective, making detailed recommendations for the stakeholders of the areas they study.
At the request of the EDC and the City, a panel of nine experts studied Kansas City for several days to recommend future plans for the entire North Loop area. Chaired by former Orlando Mayor and Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, the panel intensely studied the history and current conditions of the area, interviewing stakeholders and performing market research.
The ultimate question was this: should this swath of downtown real estate be reclaimed for development or otherwise be reconfigured to maximize economic vitality in the city?
The team emerged with a detailed set of recommendations that provided both broad planning approaches and specific areas of focus that went beyond the North Loop to consider community challenges. Some of these issues the region knows well and has reckoned with years, but the outside perspective brings new urgency to them.
Among the broader policy perspectives, the panel recommended the following:
- Develop a visionary comprehensive plan for downtown that helps us prioritize our next moves.
- Expand community engagement using new and innovative techniques to better capture the broad base of perspectives and ideas in our community.
- End the “border war” and find ways to collaborate across the state line for the good of the region.
- Build on the success of the streetcar by connecting additional neighborhoods with expansion
Beyond policy, the panel had specific tactical recommendations as well, including:
- Bringing the elevated highway connecting Missouri Route 9 to the Heart of America Bridge back to grade to remove the barrier between the River Market and Columbus Park.
- Reconnecting Independence Avenue into downtown to make both downtown and the Historic Northeast more accessible and connected
But what about the big question? Should Kansas City advocate for the closure of the North Loop to reclaim the space it takes for development?
The panel’s response: not yet. With a handful of existing available parcels still waiting for redevelopment throughout downtown, infill was seen as the best immediate development opportunity. Redeveloping the North Loop should only become a priority once these infill opportunities are realized and the city arrives on a unified vision for the future of downtown.
But with the timeline to the economic feasibility of North Loop redevelopment mirroring the time it would take to decommission the highway and prepare it for development, those conversations continue with present-day urgency. Armed with the recommendations of the expert ULI panel, the EDC and other community leaders can now chart a course for implementing the study’s recommendations and realizing its opportunities, both immediate and long-term. That work is ongoing.
View the full ULI Panel’s report.