We've given them land. We've given them money. We've given them patience.
Now I'm prepared to give them a columnist in a tutu.
I speak of Cordish, the East Coast company that's developing the Power & Light District in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.
Once-dismal streets in the south loop are snapping to attention. The brick shells of buildings along 14th Street look as though they'll give Westport and the Plaza some stout competition for the party dollar. Even though all of the shops and restaurants were supposed to be open by now and they're not, country music and basketball fans visiting the Sprint Center have still been able to slake their thirsts at McFadden's Sports Saloon, the first Power & Light District tenant to plug in a neon beer sign. Cheers!
With hands trembling, the city issued $295 million in bonds to acquire and prepare the site for our new entertainment district. The margins on the deal are thin as onion skin, but a downtown as depressing as Kansas City's required bold action.
Cordish, too, has said that it's taking a big leap. In August, company Vice President Alan Hicks told the City Council that Cordish would be out more than $150 million if the entertainment district failed. I have some questions about this, though. The city bought the land. The city built the new streets. The city presented Cordish with a $54 million subsidy for the shops and restaurants. So what's left? The McFadden's sign is big, but it's not that big.
A few weeks ago, I asked Cordish for a breakdown of the $150 million. A Cordish rep said he'd get back to me, but as of press time, I hadn't heard anything. So I'm making an offer.
If anyone can provide me with a credible balance sheet with $150 million under the bottom line, I will jog from the River Market to Crown Center wearing a tutu and one of those giant foam cowboy hats.
I'm willing to risk a little embarrassment on the chance that Cordish steps up and provides some clarity. I don't expect to make the run, however. In recent months, Cordish has not dazzled us with examples of exceptional citizenry. The company has looked instead like a prima donna.
First came news, in June, that Cordish wanted to push the opening from fall to spring. This was disappointing. The city had busted its ass to open the Sprint Center on time. Yet the neighboring entertainment district wasn't ready for action.
When the delay was announced, I remember thinking that we'd waited a long time for an inviting downtown —what was a few extra months?
But Cordish keeps pushing its limits.
Buried in its recent package of stories promoting what looks to be a pretty workable streetcar plan, The Kansas City Star reported that Cordish does not want light rail on Grand or Main. This is rather startling news. Grand and Main, after all, are the Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of our city's north-south streets.
Cordish's aversion to light rail on Grand seems particularly silly. Company officials have said that they want to be able to close off Grand and put on big events. But I thought 14th Street was supposed to serve that purpose. The city gave Cordish the right to block traffic on 14th and turn the area between Bartle Hall and the Sprint Center into a party zone. What do they need Grand for?
Kansas City has waited a long time for light rail. It was one thing when Jim Nutter and the Kempers pooped on different transit proposals. But now that city leaders have finally caught up to 1978 and promised to build us something, a family in Baltimore is going to tell us where to put it? C'mon.
Cordish apparently doesn't like buses, either.
Three years ago, Hicks asked the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to consider removing bus routes from some of the streets that run through the Power & Light district. Hicks said the entertainment zone needed the bus lanes for on-street parking.
On-street parking is a good thing. But something felt creepy about this request. Hicks said that entertainment districts typically put mass transit at the "periphery." His words betrayed a desire to create a force field between Cordish tenants and undesirables. In 2004, black leaders in Louisville, Kentucky, complained about a Cordish development's ban on sports jerseys and backward caps ("Cruiser Control," March 1). I asked the ATA for an up-to-date map of downtown bus routes. The map shows only two lines rolling through the heart of the Power & Light District. The routes — the Ward Parkway and South Oak lines — serve predominantly white neighborhoods.
Now, after limiting bus access, Cordish wants to take away the free parking it promised us.
Cordish announced last week that it wants to charge $2 for patrons to park in garages the city — the city — spent $52 million to build. Like the delayed grand opening, this news caught city officials off-guard.
Initially, Cordish said that the garages would be free during off-business hours if parkers had a receipt from Ted's Montana Grill or Ol' Shep's Shrimp and Tater Emporium or whatever other chains Cordish lands.
Now Cordish wants to collect $2 from every car that comes into the garages in the evenings. City officials are reviewing the development agreement to determine if the request is valid.
I looked at the agreement. Because lawyers can't write for shit, I'm not certain if the charge is allowed. (I found a sentence in the agreement that's 117 words long, which is almost half the length of the Gettysburg Address.) I think Cordish's $2 fee is out of bounds, but then, I'm not fluent in Bulgarian.
A $2 parking charge isn't that big of a deal. Cordish officials say they're going to use 100 percent of the parking money to put on free events so that everyone can hang out downtown and have a great time. Hey, maybe the parking fee will encourage people to use public transit.