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After Cleaver announced the idea of the Green Impact Zone in February 2009, he looked for a partner to help execute the idea. He approached MARC, which in turn approached the neighborhood and social-service organizations within the zone's boundaries to determine priorities for the revitalization effort. The resulting slate listed eight projects, ranging from a sustainable land-use plan to a smart-grid energy project designed to cut costs and improve appliance efficiency for homeowners. In the fall of 2009, the city pledged $1.5 million to help finance a Green Impact Zone Assistance Center.
"We'd been trying a shotgun approach to development for decades, with limited effect," Circo says. "And now there was this opportunity to see if targeting does make a difference."
Anita Maltbia, a former assistant city manager, was hired as the executive director, along with a staff of six people. Office space was leased from a Kansas City, Missouri, School District building at 4600 Paseo Boulevard. The September 1 ribbon-cutting drew representatives from the White House, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.
"It's going to be, I think, a little surprising to people who are accustomed to seeing balloons go off at the start of something and no balloons around at the end," Cleaver said at the event. "But this one, I think, is going to be something that I think the entire community, whether you're in the Green Impact Zone or not, will feel good about."
The Green Impact Zone enjoyed a high profile from its inception. Maltbia attended Obama's State of the Union address in January 2010 as a guest of Michelle Obama's. A month later, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held a press conference at the Green Impact Zone Assistance Center to announce that Kansas City had received $50 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economy Recovery funds. Approximately $26 million was slated to be spent directly on transportation infrastructure improvements in the zone.
"You'll be under a microscope and a spotlight as you spend this money," LaHood said. The spotlight arrived well before the microscope.
The words "national model" were used often when people talked about the zone. During a March 2010 visit to the zone, Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan, of the Federal Transit Administration, noted: "This project has become a national model of how a federal investment will assist a community in an economic decline."
The next month, the city secured a $20 million grant to create EnergyWorks KC, a program dedicated to energy efficiency and green-job creation. As part of that grant, $150,000 would be disbursed over three years to cover the costs of the zone's office, and $2.2 million would go toward rehabilitating a building at 5008 Prospect into a community center and business incubator.
The zone's early efforts centered on community outreach. There were community meetings, and there was funding for projects such as the "community crew," in Ivanhoe, in which trained residents between the ages of 18 and 24 would perform sidewalk-remediation work in front of homes. There were trash pickups and food drives. There was an urban homes tour marketed to realtors and potential homebuyers. Neighborhood residents were taught how to navigate city departments, work with the police and advocate for projects.
"This was a format where people from one neighborhood could hear what was going on in other people's neighborhoods," says Wanda Taylor, president of the Troostwood Neighborhood Association.
But the community-engagement strategy broke down in the face of the zone's first large-scale project.
In October 2010, MARC secured $4.5 million in funds for the proposed weatherization of 659 homes. MARC hired a contractor, Zimmer Real Estate Services, to oversee the scheduling and structure of the program. Zone staff were designated to provide outreach and education on the benefits of weatherization. Then-Mayor Mark Funkhouser declared October 30 "Weatherization Day." But each of the 659 homes would present its own challenges — starting with eligibility for the program — and the warm feelings wouldn't last long.