Raytown finally discovers a cash cow at Kauffman.

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Raytown finally discovers a cash cow at Kauffman.

Image suddenly matters to Raytown.

Its residents shrugged off the redneck jokes. They disregarded the Raytown stereotype fueled by wacky car dealers offering "doggone good deals" and the forgettable, Raytown-set sitcom "Mama's Family," starring "Carol Burnett Show"-refugee Vicki Lawrence.

Raytowners had neighbors they liked and who looked like them. They sent their children to decent schools. They paid their relatively low taxes, smug in their version of the American dream.

But this summer, downtown Raytown went from Mayberry to mayday. As metro residents argued in June and July about uprooting the Royals from Kauffman Stadium, near Raytown's city limits, and building a new baseball field in downtown Kansas City, townies began to fret.

Raytown, Kansas City's original suburb, incorporated in 1950 to stave off digestion by Kansas City, which instead annexed the geography around Raytown, landlocking it. The suburb's rolling hills sprouted rooftops.

The town didn't need a marketing scheme. Not being Kansas City was enough. "This [was] the place to get away from the big, bad city," says Tim Truesdale, Raytown's economic development director.

What its downtown lacked in turn-of-the-century brick buildings and historic architecture it made up for in convenience. Raytown Plaza, an early strip mall in downtown Raytown, drew shoppers from miles around.

Today, Raytown Plaza relies on the banal combination of a tae kwan do studio, a laundromat and a Lay-Z-Boy outlet store to lure speeding motorists off the four-lane highways that converge at Truman Sports Complex.

Mayor Sue Frank doesn't like what she has seen happen to her home. She doesn't like the deteriorating downtown. She doesn't like the state of the city budget, which still runs at a deficit after declining revenues forced tough decisions each of the last two years. She doesn't like the jokes.

"The image is important," Frank says.

So Frank hopes to change the image, revitalize downtown Raytown and fix the budget by seizing an opportunity that knocked thirty years ago when the sports complex sprung up on Raytown's doorstep, a mile from its border and a little more than two miles from its downtown.

"The reality for us was really, 25 or 30 years ago we should have capitalized on the geographic close connection to the stadium complex," Frank says. Instead of moving Kauffman, perhaps Raytown could become the downtown for the stadium.

She imagines a new downtown Raytown with a sports bar or two -- or six. Shuttles would run people north to the sports complex and back. Sports fans could warm up on the way to the game and either celebrate or drown their sorrows afterward, leaving their sales-tax money behind.

The cash-strapped city has paid $500,000 for the old First Baptist Church of Raytown, whose congregation has moved to Highway 350. The three acres are to be the foundation of a new, pedestrian-friendly downtown. Meanwhile, improvements are to be made to Raytown's "gateways," key intersections at its borders.

First up is 63rd Street and Blue Ridge cutoff. The intersection sees about 30,000 vehicles a day, a figure that doubles on Chiefs game days when I-435 dumps suburban Kansans by the carload onto 63rd Street. City drawings show wide sidewalks, brick-like pavement and pillars that resemble lighthouses, the equivalent of red-carpet treatment for Raytown's guests.

The projects likely will require a tax increase.

"There's going to have to be some kind of intervention," Truesdale says. "If this was going to happen on its own, it would have happened long ago."

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