That's probably why a recent Thursday morning press conference held by the Jazz District Redevelopment Corporation, the quasi-governmental agency that manages the dictrict, felt more like a party. A jazz band played in the lobby of the Gem Theatre, and servers from the district's lone restaurant, the Peach Tree, handed out bread and muffins.
The news was big: The JDRC had hired a businessman from Columbus, Ohio, to take over the management of the district and finally get some tenants for the vacant buildings. The man of the hour, Adam K. Troy, took the podium to boast that he'd find national retail chains to fill the storefronts a claim that's been repeated by various 18th and Vine leaders for years.
Afterward, when Troy was asked what experience he's had with similar projects, he said: "Most specifically, the King-Lincoln District in Columbus, Ohio." Then one of his partners pulled him away.
In fact, Troy had a minor role in the King-Lincoln District project, which is widely considered a failure. In addition, several government figures, business leaders and community advocates in Columbus tell the Pitch that Troy and his companies have handled few projects and nothing on the scale of the 18th and Vine district.
The JDRC's decision to hire an outside management company comes after years of complaints about the lack of progress at 18th and Vine. The district's rehab began in 1989, when then-mayor Emanuel Cleaver championed a public improvement project that included $20 million for 18th and Vine. Construction didn't begin until 1996 and has cost more than $30 million.
The JDRC began advertising for a "master developer" in April, with a one-inch advertisement in The Kansas City Star and several larger ads in African-American newspapers, according to documents released by the JDRC on Tuesday to the Pitch. Four companies responded to the ads, including the Pyramid Companies of St. Louis and Greenleaf Construction, a Kansas City company that's building apartments in the jazz district.
It's unclear how or why the JDRC selected Troy and his company. Most members of the JDRC's 11-person board which includes Blue Cross Blue Shield executive Peter Yelorda and former Chiefs strong safety Deron Cherry either did not return phone calls or would not comment on the decision. The only board member to comment was Cleaver, now a U.S. Rep., whose spokesman, Danny Rotert, said the congressman had been told that Troy had worked on many similar projects in Columbus.
"He's just interested in making sure 18th and Vine goes well," Rotert said of Cleaver. "Hopefully, he [Troy] will build and grow on something that he [Cleaver] has put a lot of time into."
As of last week, the JDRC had yet to finalize a contract with Troy, according to Denise E. Gilmore, who has been the agency's president and CEO since February. Gilmore says she expects to have an agreement signed by Troy within a month.
Outside the JDRC, not everyone is convinced that Troy has the experience to handle the project. Anita Dixon, president of the Mid America Multicultural Travel & Tourism Network, believes that Troy and the entourage of businessmen he brought from Columbus wowed the JDRC into ignoring his limited experience. "I haven't seen a group that polished since New Edition," Dixon says. "If there was ever a dog and pony show, it is that."
Troy did not return phone calls for this article. In an e-mail to the Pitch on September 8, his office manager, Veronica Ojeda, indicated that Troy does not talk directly to the press and that all inquiries must be sent in writing to a media relations company. "Upon review with Mr. Troy, these inquiries are responded to in writing as deemed necessary and appropriate," Ojeda wrote. The president of GAP Communications of Columbus tells the Pitch that Troy does not wish to respond.
Troy, 46, is the son of a prominent preacher in Columbus. He and his partner, Keith Key, have used at least seven different corporate names, including Omni Management Group and Urban 1 Development Collaborative, which is the company that will oversee 18th and Vine.
Troy has one big-dollar project under his belt, the rehab of a run-down, inner-city Columbus apartment complex. In 2003, Troy renamed the complex Heritage Apartments and converted it into 384 town houses. Troy got $20 million from local, state and federal governments to pay for the $24 million project, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
At first, residents complained that Heritage Apartments had been rehabbed with substandard materials and problems weren't being fixed right away, according to a June 2003 article in the Dispatch. But William Graves, housing administrator for the city of Columbus, tells the Pitch that Troy has since corrected many of the problems. Graves says a city inspection in August turned up only minor problems.
As for the King-Lincoln District, several people familiar with that project say Troy and Key got involved with it in the mid-1990s by working with city leaders on plans to pump public funds into a traditionally black-owned business district. Columbus city leaders even toured 18th and Vine in 2002, looking for ideas. Since then, Columbus has tried to encourage development within the King-Lincoln District, but the only significant business to open there, a supermarket, has closed.
Troy and Key didn't last long with King-Lincoln, says Willis Brown, president of the King-Lincoln Bronzeville Neighborhood Association. About a decade ago, one of its companies bought property at East Long Street and Hamilton Avenue. The plan was to put up an office building paid for with government subsidies, Brown says. "They tried to develop that property, but they just couldn't pull it together."
According to Brown, Troy and Key sold the property back to the city for $23,000, and another developer put up an office building that's now leased by the Columbus Police. Brown claims that Troy and Key made a profit off the property for doing nothing. "They were supposed to do a building that would improve the neighborhood, but instead they just sold it back to the city."
Gilmore says that Troy will take over the Jazz District's management as soon as the contract is signed. But Gilmore became frustrated when the Pitch asked about Troy's lack of experience. "Why can't you focus on the positive?" she asked. "This is a new day for 18th and Vine."