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"We wanted to work with neighborhoods that had clearly identified pressing needs," says Diane Cleaver, UNI's executive director (and wife of the congressman), by e-mail. "The fact that there was significant overlap with the Green Impact Zone along with recognition of all the Zone had done including building of some social infrastructure was seen as a definite asset for the neighborhoods."
Another asset was the announcement of a $14 million renovation project for the vacant Bancroft School site, at 4300 Tracy. When it's done, the former school will contain 29 affordable housing units (with an additional 21 units built on the adjacent grounds). The first two floors of the original building are slated to include a community center, free to the neighborhood association for 15 years, with an auditorium, a computer lab and a gymnasium.
"This new development, no longer stagnant, stands as a testament to the hard work that is going on within the Green Impact Zone to create jobs, boost the economy, and revitalize areas of Kansas City that have seen disinvestment and deterioration for decades," Rep. Cleaver says by e-mail.
It made national headlines because of its lead developer: the Make It Right Foundation, the nonprofit founded by actor Brad Pitt to help rebuild post-Katrina New Orleans with sustainable housing practices.
Almost a year later, work is under way, and voices can be heard in the hallways of the Bancroft School for the first time in 15 years. Kansas City is a test city for Make It Right as the organization determines whether it can extend its model outside New Orleans.
"We are only in Kansas City because of the big idea around the Green Impact Zone," says Make It Right's Tim Duggan, who lives in Beacon Hill. "The idea of a sustainable urban-revitalization effort in the city — it's the first time in my lifetime I can remember that happening."
BNIM Architects helped secure LEED Platinum status for the building, which will be powered in part by a solar array on its roof. The financing is a mix of federal and state housing and historic-preservation-tax credits and private donations. It's close to the green-development panacea that Rep. Cleaver envisioned — though success carries its own hazards.
David Park, deputy director of the city's Neighborhood and Housing Services Department, says neighborhood associations asked the Land Trust of Jackson County to put a hold on properties in the area around Bancroft, to prevent speculators from swooping in and purchasing lots.
"Speculators can stymie redevelopment efforts, because any dollar you add to the price of a property makes it less likely to happen," Park says.
In October 2012, the city transferred 477 zone properties from the Land Trust to the city's Homesteading Authority. The transfer makes these properties a test case for how to handle more than 3,000 other properties that are headed for the newly established Land Bank. As with the weatherization houses, these properties require assessment and, in some cases, cleanup — or demolition. The city plans to spend $1 million, raised as part of a sales tax approved by voters last August, to tear down 140 homes over the next three months.
The next challenge for the Green Impact Zone: Prove that the processes that have jump-started the Bancroft School's redevelopment can be repeated. With zone transportation projects nearing the final phase of construction, the Green Impact Zone must evolve from a federally funded super-network of neighborhoods to something that's tightly run and strategy-driven.