Just two years ago, the Kansas City, Missouri, City Council promised that if Julia Irene Kauffman could finally raise all the money to make the $304 million performing-arts center a reality, the city would build an underground parking garage right next to it.
It's that kind of assurance that makes it possible to raise funds for such an expensive project.
But since that promise, Kansas City hired a new wheeler-dealer city manager, the meddling Wayne Cauthen. This busybody from Denver steps right in and demolishes one city department (housing) and decapitates others (aviation, public works, human resources). And what else does he do?
He takes away the performing-arts center's parking garage.
Despite the promise of two years ago, Cauthen callously changes the city's plans, suggesting that the garage will be built in a different location to put it closer to other downtown attractions and that it will be above ground, saving some money in construction costs.
Yes, the city will save $10 million. But what it will lose in credibility is immeasurable.
You see, the new location won't just be more than a block away from the performing-arts center. It will be well down a hill, making it difficult for symphony, ballet and opera patrons to hike up to the new center.
Here's what Cauthen's new plans will mean: On symphony nights, for example, convoys of Lexus sedans and Mercedes coupes and BMW SUVs will make their way from Mission Hills, Prairie Village, Leawood and Overland Park to the cold, mean streets of downtown Kansas City.
Under the old plan, these steel machines, armored against the sights and smells of the urban core with tinted windows and electronic climate control, would slide under the earth into the protective bunker of the promised parking garage. Folks wrapped up tight in elegant clothing and reassuring furs would then be able to step through a connecting passageway into the pleasant confines of the symphony hall without setting foot into the city itself. After the performance, they could just as easily return to their automobiles and be on their way home, never having actually breathed the outside air of Kansas City's downtown.
The most terrifying aspect of their night would have been worrying about whether the violinists remembered their parts.
But in a city run by Cauthen, those same symphony patrons face a night of sheer terror. Forced to park in a garage more than a block away, these suburban music lovers will not only have to step onto the city's sidewalks but also will be faced with a strenuous uphill climb.
What is Cauthen thinking? Doesn't he realize that some or maybe most of these patrons are older, well-heeled people likely to be carting around wallets weighed down by credit cards made of silver, gold or even platinum? Doesn't the city manager care that these aging arts lovers will probably have to break up their hike to the symphony hall in smaller, more manageable sections? And that in order to accommodate these people, coffeehouses, restaurants and other shops will probably have to be placed along the route to outfit and care for these struggling walkers?
In fact, this chuck roast believes that the pitiless city manager intends for all new parking garages to be located only between, not adjacent to, all forthcoming downtown attractions so that walking will be required! That's right! Johnson Countians wanting to sample our revivified urban core will find themselves coerced into becoming pedestrians, unwilling pawns in an evil plan to create a new urban landscape of foot traffic and street-level commerce!
It's a frightening prospect. And soon, supporters of this city's performing arts center will demand their due: expensive transport systems to get those poor patrons up the hill. Naturally, taxpayers will be expected to foot the bill.
Still, there is hope. Despite the decisions made by this town's miserly city manager, there is a chance that Kansas City can right this wrong without soaking the locals.
This tenderloin has seen what can happen when the people of a city pull together in the face of this kind of crisis. In the city of Phoenix, for example, where this slab of protein did some dry aging, bad urban planning meant that well-dressed folks had to walk several blocks through downtown's scorching streets to get from parking areas to attractions. Did the city build expensive moving sidewalks or erect monorails? No. An army of young people has come to its rescue instead.
These muscular, tanned angels of the desert use the power in their legs to propel three-wheeled contraptions that feature a wide seat for two paying passengers. For a few dollars, these bicycle rickshaws allow folks to go from their cars to their bars with only a minimum of sweat.
What an amazing solution.
You know what? There's a name for what happens when enterprising people who realize that they can make a buck fill a need that government can't.
It's called capitalism.
Gosh, it'll be good to see it make a comeback downtown.
Tony Ortega talks about this week's Pitch with KRBZ 96.5's Lazlo after 4 p.m. Wednesday.