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"I mean, it's everything you can possibly imagine: the blight, the crime, the land, the poverty levels, everything," he says. "It fits the criteria like none other."
Finding someone to redevelop the area wasn't easy, though. Residents wanted a full-service grocery store and other retailers. Will McCarther, now the vice president for community affairs at Research Medical Center, was part of the original team tasked with getting the project off the ground. He says he met with the city's big-name developers, but they weren't interested in taking on the Citadel Plaza.
The CDC-KC seemed like a good fit. The idea of community-development corporations grew out of a federal push, in the 1960s, to revitalize declining inner-city communities. CDCs use public funds to jump-start new projects in blighted areas that traditional developers and private funders consider risky investments.
Established in 1974, the CDC-KC is one of more than 4,000 such entities across the country. But like many of them, the CDC-KC is small. Threatt, who makes $92,000 a year, according to the group's most recent tax filing, says it has only five full-time employees, down from as many as 30 in the late 1990s. For the most part, Threatt says, the CDC-KC contracts with outside experts for specific projects.
When it came to finding a developer for the Citadel Plaza, the CDC-KC wasn't a stranger to the neighborhood. In recent years, it had developed the Linwood shopping center at 31st Street and Prospect and the Metro Plaza at 63rd and Paseo.
But Citadel would be a much larger undertaking than anything the CDC-KC had done. Spanning seven city blocks, the new shopping center would include more than 320,000 square feet of retail space — more than three times the size of the CDC-KC's biggest previous project. With millions spent on street beautification and redesigning a portion of 63rd Street, the total price tag would exceed $80 million — considerably more than the $12 million spent on Linwood.
Maps and diagrams fill the small conference room in the CDC-KC's office on Linwood. According to project outlines, the Citadel Plaza will include staple goods and services, such as a supermarket, a shoe store and clothing retailers. But it will also include a day spa, a fitness center and an art gallery. Threatt won't divulge company names, but he says the CDC-KC has secured letters of intent from businesses that will occupy more than 70 percent of the space, including an anchor tenant.
Market studies commissioned by the CDC-KC indicate that area residents have more than enough buying power to make the center profitable. According to a study by St. Louis-based Development Strategies, people living within three miles of the site spend more than $1 billion every year on the same goods and services envisioned for Citadel Plaza. No longer will urban residents have to drive to midtown or Independence to get fresh vegetables and baked goods, Threatt says. The development will draw from traffic along U.S. Highway 71 and thousands of employees at nearby Research Medical Center.
In 2001 and 2002, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the CDC-KC nearly $3 million in grants to buy properties and demolish them. Kansas City lent the CDC-KC $1 million in late 2005 and another $200,000 in early 2006. The city also advanced $3.5 million in TIF funds in 2007. Threatt says Citadel Plaza has plenty of private backing as well, though he won't name names. Of the $80 million price tag, Threatt says, less than 6 percent will come from taxpayers.