The tragic story of how Kansas City leaders, blinded by the Wizards’ pro-sports glamour project, turned their backs on an idea that might actually have saved Bannister Mall 

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Austin decided that the future was in New Urbanism.

New Urbanism is essentially a repudiation of postwar suburban sprawl. Its promoters believe in walkable neighborhoods. The movement encourages cities and developers to stop thinking that work, school, worship, leisure and home life belong in segregated areas, accessible only by car.

New Urbanism had entered the mainstream by the time Austin was trying to piece together the bigger picture. In 1995, Newsweek had run a cover story, "15 Ways to Fix the Suburbs," outlining the virtues of corner stores and skinny streets.

Austin needed a pulpit from which to advance his ideas. Working with the Economic Development Corporation and his representatives on the City Council, he structured a community-improvement district. Property owners within a CID agree to a special tax on their properties or sales, then spend the extra money on infrastructure and services beyond what cities can provide.

The Bannister Road CID took the name 3-Trails Village — a celebration of the Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails used by pioneers. The trails were a nice hook and a way to obtain grants. Federal highway-beautification money helped place metal sculptures of buffalo and cowboys on the grassy area between the mall and Interstate 435. "The [CID] board wanted to rebrand the area," Austin says.

A new brand was necessary. Austin, who would become the chair of the CID, says south Kansas City had formed its identity around Bannister Mall, and it was a false identity. At its core, a shopping center is a means of making money. Even in good times, a mall should never define a neighborhood.

Bass Pro, then, was really just another mask for south Kansas City to wear. "We can't admit who we are," Austin says. "We chase dreams."

Austin wanted something that was more substantive.

In 2003, Gary Sage, a senior vice president at the Economic Development Corporation, stressed to Austin the importance of developing a master plan. In a letter, Sage wrote that a master plan could provide a "framework for leveraging ... development opportunities into maximum benefits for the area, surrounding neighborhoods and the city as a whole."

Austin took Sage's words to heart — only to watch city leaders ignore his efforts.


Since its inception, Major League Soccer has struggled to capture the attention of American sports fans. Accounts of games tend to appear in the rear of sports sections. Its TV presence is minimal.

The league has had better luck socializing its costs. Several teams play in publicly funded stadiums.

Major League Soccer clubs have had success with their stadium drives by attaching their desires to youth soccer. In three cities, new soccer stadiums were bundled with youth fields and other "participation assets" in an effort to make the projects seem more worthwhile to the public.

When he put the Wizards up for sale in 2004, Lamar Hunt instructed potential buyers in Kansas City to lock in a stadium deal. Hunt had watched the Wizards get swallowed up in cavernous Arrowhead Stadium. (The Wizards' current home is CommunityAmerica Ballpark, a baseball stadium at Village West.)

OnGoal LLC, the Wizards' current ownership syndicate, bought the team from Hunt in 2006. The principals include Illig and Neal Patterson, the chairman of the board at Cerner, a provider of health-care information technology. Cerner's value is more than $5 billion.

At the same time that OnGoal was negotiating to buy the Wizards, officials in Johnson County were putting together a proposal to build a $75 million soccer park in south Overland Park. OnGoal let it be known that it wanted to build a stadium at that site (revenue source: to be determined) if voters in Johnson County approved the plan.

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