The city has laid down a huge bet on the entertainment district, having issued $295 million in bonds. Even the optimists at City Hall, I've noticed, tend to lower their voices when they speak of the coming array of shops, bars and restaurants. A lot is riding on the belief that hordes of St. Joseph residents will forsake their local Chipotle for the thrill of eating a fajita burrito underneath skyscrapers.
The stakes convinced me to spend a recent evening with the city's agreement with the Cordish Company, the multibillion-dollar real-estate conglomerate developing the project.
Whimpering in pain, I tried to make sense of the contract's 100-word sentences. Then, reading section 9.1(b) of article IX, I froze. The agreement says the level of police presence in the district "shall, at all times, be acceptable" to Cordish.
Around the same time I read that, City Manager Wayne Cauthen presented next year's budget to the City Council. The budget calls for an additional 20 police officers.
Would the new cops, I wondered, man a garrison for Cordish?
It's a reasonable question. In Baltimore, where Cordish is based, the company's Power Plant Live District has made demands on police and liquor agents. A story in The Baltimore Sun a year ago described the problems associated with Power Plant Live's college night: fake IDs, open containers, fights, puke crusting on sidewalks.
Debauchery got so bad that surrounding colleges banned the buses running to and from the district. Students were causing too many problems when they returned to campus, sloshed on $1 beers.
You'll hear no lectures on binge drinking from this pulpit. I do worry, however, about the strain that Power & Light partiers will put on police. After all, the entertainment district is already a risky proposition.
You see, the Power & Light District is projected to generate revenues just 4 percent greater than the debt service on the city's bonds. That's white-knuckle territory. The city's finance director, Deb Hinsvark, has called the coverage "very skinny."
In addition, the city faces indirect costs as a result of the south loop's transformation from ghost land to tourist bubble. The new budget, for instance, draws $800,000 from the general fund to operate three new parking garages within the district.
Extra police are another hidden cost. The Cordish agreement requests foot and horse patrols "on a regular basis" but provides no means to pay for them.
As it stands now, a sergeant and seven officers patrol the central business district during the day. Department officials envision a sergeant and five officers staffing a new evening patrol once the entertainment district opens and nonvagrants have a reason to use downtown streets after dark. The numbers could change.
"It's kind of hard to tell, until we're really getting people down here, exactly how many people we'll need," Deputy Chief Rachel Whipple tells me. "We know that it's going to be more. Obviously, the more people that come down here, the more people we're going to need."
The need for more police comes at a time when the department has been criticized for not adequately protecting parts of downtown where people already live and work. Last year, the Downtown Neighborhood Association complained about "anarchy" at Case Park. The property owners on the Downtown Council have also expressed their unhappiness with the lack of police presence.
I used to live in Quality Hill, and I can vouch for doubts about security. My car bears the scars of a break-in and a hit-and-run. My neighbors were burglarized.
The Power & Light District will only mean more work for the KCPD especially if the district attracts people who choose to throw punches and pee on the sides of buildings.
The establishments in the Power & Light District are unlikely to serve Thunderbird in rubber pails. But you can't predict who's going to show up and need gentle or forceful guidance from the police.
Cordish, in fact, made a clumsy attempt to govern its customer base when, in 2004, it imposed a dress code at Fourth Street Live, its development in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. A ban against jerseys and backward caps spurred complaints of racism and threats from the ACLU.
Here in Kansas City, police department officials seem to be taking the city's open-ended commitment of their personnel in stride. Gary Majors, the Central Patrol commander, says the police talk regularly with Cordish officials.
"We have a vested interest in making this a huge success ourselves," Majors notes. "We directly benefit from a good, viable economy. As the budget goes up, we tend to do well by that."
Majors is right. The project has to work, or else money that's supposed to pay for street repair, weed control and other city services will be needed to retire the Power & Light bonds instead. The police, it seems, will be guarding city treasure as much as fulfilling the terms of a contract.
I put in a request on February 20 to talk to someone at Cordish. I wanted to know what an "acceptable" police force might look like a solitary cop twirling a baton or an approximation of the Green Zone? No one got back to me.
Alas, the cops-on-demand language wasn't the only section of the city's agreement with Cordish that I was wondering about. It's been reported, for instance, that the city paid the developer a $3 million fee. Here's another thing: The contract reveals that Cordish, through an affiliate, receives additional money for serving as the construction manager of those parking garages I mentioned earlier. The fee is, by my calculation, $2.5 million.
Meanwhile, even with Cauthen's extra 20 officers, wherever they're deployed, the city is still 40 cops short of the 250 new officers voters were promised back in 2002. And the average police cruiser has 160,000 miles on it.