The elevator ascends. John Sharp, a city councilman who represents south Kansas City, is changing floors at City Hall, moving from one meeting to another.
Sharp and his colleagues on the City Council spent 90 minutes at the first meeting arguing about ambulances. One faction of the council wants the fire department to take over the emergency service. Sharp sides with the others, who think the city should continue to use MAST. The discussion produces tension, partly because the city's firefighters are represented by a powerful union that likes to make public officials squirm.
In addition to that drama, Sharp is coping with the sudden disappearance of a $1 billion project from his district.
Earlier in the day, Sharp, Mayor Mark Funkhouser and others met with Cliff Illig, one of the owners of the Kansas City Wizards, the area's professional soccer team. City officials called the meeting to learn what might be salvaged from a deal they thought they had sealed with Illig and his partners.
In 2007, the Wizards committed to building a stadium on the site of the old Bannister Mall. City Hall, in turn, pledged millions of dollars to help build the stadium and surrounding shops, offices and hotel rooms.
It was an ambitious proposal with a lot of moving parts. And as Sharp and others learned last week, it could vanish in an instant.
On Wednesday, September 9, the front page of The Kansas City Star carried the surprise announcement that the Wizards were now planning to build a stadium in Kansas City, Kansas. By dinnertime, representatives of the Wizards and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County had reached an agreement.
Sharp felt betrayed. He lives close to the Bannister Mall site. When the shopping center went into decline, the demoralization reached his front porch. "This is my neighborhood," he says.
Previous revitalization promises had failed, and the Wizards' project looked like certain salvation.
The meeting with Illig, a co-founder of the Cerner Corporation, took place in Funkhouser's office. The mayor poured Illig a glass of ice water.
City officials did not enter the mayor's office from a position of strength. The 2007 agreement with the Wizards had pushed the needle toward reckless. The Finance Department's model indicated that the city stood to lose $41 million when all the pennies were counted.
Yet even at that level of generosity, Kansas City, Missouri, could not match what was being dangled on the other side of the state line.
In Funkhouser's office, Illig told the city leaders that he and his partners remained committed to redeveloping the Bannister site, and building new offices there for the fast-growing Cerner.
"That's what we were told," Sharp says.
Did he believe it?
"That's what we were told."
The elevator makes its climb. Sharp refuses to play the what-if game.
"We offered them everything we had," he says, his voice barely audible above the ambient noise in the elevator car.
To be sure, the Wizards' decision to pull out of south Kansas City is traumatic. But the city's public officials seem poised to learn all the wrong lessons from the experience.
Economic-development boosters in Kansas City, Missouri, complain that their counterparts in Kansas write blank checks to prospective developers. There is some truth to this. The Unified Government authorized $305 million in bonds to assist the construction of the Kansas Speedway and the Village West shopping area.
But it's not as if Kansas City, Missouri, lacks powerful tools. Greg LeRoy, the author of Jobs Scam, a book about corporate subsidies and tax dodges, calls the incentives in Missouri "scandalous."