This is precisely the nature of the risk taken about fifteen years ago by artists who moved to the Crossroads district -- flanked by Interstate 35 on the west, Bruce R. Watkins Drive on the east, the freeway loop on the north and Union Station on the south -- before it was a cultural mecca for the city.
With such businesses as Birch Telecom and pricey restaurants such as Zin moving into the neighborhood, artists who created an urban haven from high rent and suburban mentality have become increasingly concerned that they've paved the way for developers to drive out low-income artists. Dowell, an architect with el Dorado, sees validity in the artists' concerns but doesn't think the situation is as cut-and-dried as their arguments imply. He uses the example of a sculptor named Stretch, who works out of a studio space on the 1900 block of Wyandotte, as an example.
"He recognized what was going on early enough ... to buy one of these buildings when they were dirt cheap. He took a proactive approach -- he figured out what he was gonna do to maintain his lifestyle and do what he wanted to do instead of waiting for stuff to happen, then reacting. Now he's got a really great facility over there." According to Dowell, the developers don't want to drive artists out, but artists looking for that kind of deal need to be innovative and take a risk on a space. He adds that developers follow artists because artists can spot cool areas while "developers can't see any of that. Artists need to understand the developers' game and make it work for them because the developers have certainly figured it out."
For more than a year and a half, Dowell and other el Dorado architects have been excavating old downtown buildings' beauty (which was buried under layers of misuse), commissioning artists in the neighborhood to do some of the handiwork. What Dowell and other architects love -- and hate -- about the Crossroads district is its potential. "Kansas City has always been a city of potential. I get sick of it being that way. I want it to be realized potential," he laments, harkening back to the excitement he felt while living in San Francisco. On a visit back to his hometown of Kansas City, the possibility of the Crossroads district becoming a thriving urban district roped him in; he's been dedicated to the project ever since. "I was working with big firms that were moving slowly toward implementation, and I finally thought, 'Fuck that. I want to do this right now, and if it fails, I'll go back to the coast.'"