Jermaine Reed points to the plot of land where the Horace Mann Elementary School once stood, on 39th Street overlooking U.S. Highway 71. The school, abandoned in 1979, burned in a December 2011 fire.
Reed, the 28-year-old 3rd District councilman, saw the blaze as an opportunity to live out a childhood fantasy: tear down the school. In January, he sponsored a series of ordinances to do just that and usher in residential development and a senior living facility.
"I remember as a kid thinking, Man, that should be down," Reed says during a driving tour of the 3rd District on a gray Friday afternoon. "Now, as an adult and being kind of responsible for it being down and bettering the community, I have a sense of pride."
Reed, the council's youngest member, wears a slick black shirt and jacket but no tie for the first time this week. He rides in the backseat of a white Chevy Impala from the city fleet while his legislative aide, Marcus Leach, drives.
"There's so much to show off," Reed says.
The 3rd District on the city's east side is bounded roughly by Independence Avenue to the north, Brush Creek Boulevard to the south, Troost Avenue to the west and the city limits beyond Interstate 435 to the east. It's the city's second–smallest district by land area. Every couple of blocks, Reed tells Leach to pull over so he can point out a new development.
There's the grassy area of Troost in the Beacon Hill neighborhood that is slated to become 123 units of student housing for the University of Missouri–Kansas City. He helped secure a $26 million grant for the project and sponsored a council resolution supporting the plan. He says a new 35,000-square-foot grocery store, a partnership between the city and Truman Medical Center, will be built at 27th and Troost, a long-awaited "oasis" in the heart of the Eastside's food desert.
The next stop is Greg/Klice Community Center. The 20-year-old building at 1600 John "Buck" O'Neil Way is being renovated with new amenities and brought up to the Americans With Disabilities Act standards. Reed directed $600,000 of his district's public–improvement budget to the sprawling complex, with a basketball court; a workout room; a boxing ring; a food-service kitchen; a new zero-entry swimming pool; and a hot tub, sauna and steam room.
"This is the neighborhood I live in, and citizens would tell me about the improvements that were needed here," Reed says. "I heard their voices loud and clear."
On his way out of the community center, he stops to chat with a surly former high school classmate in the lobby. "We're getting it done," Reed says. "It will be done in June."
"June?" The man scoffs and shakes his head. "Then you're going to say August."
The Impala rolls on past boarded–up homes on 26th Street slated for demolition, giving way to the new headquarters for the Kansas City Police Department's East Patrol and crime lab (46 of the city's 108 homicides in 2012 were handled in the 3rd District by East Patrol).
"It doesn't look very appealing right now," Reed says. "Unfortunately, this is an area that we had to uproot some citizens who lived here."
Not everyone was happy about being moved. Several residents complained about Reed's support of the project. Black-and-white "Recall Reed" signs sprouted in yards across the district early in 2012. (Two attempts to recall Reed failed.) The Rev. L. Henderson Bell of Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church publicly ripped Reed for not listening to constituents who didn't want a police campus in their neighborhood. (Bell later recanted.) The Recipe, a local hip-hop duo, released a song titled "Jermaine Reed Infomercial," with lyrics calling the councilman an "Uncle Tom" and a "lapdog swallowing KCPD seeds."