More than a year from operation, Kansas City’s Streetcar is already driving investment downtown

Kansas City Streetcar
A rendering of Kansas City’s future streetcar. Image via PlanningKC.

In a sign of things to come for downtown Kansas City, MO, a site along the city’s forthcoming streetcar line is being transformed from a parking lot into a mixed-use development. The developer of Crossroads Apartments, who has never built in Kansas City before, told the Kansas City Star that ”the streetcar is the big thing that drew us, absolutely.”

The Kansas City Downtown Streetcar Project is comprised of a streetcar loop that will mostly run along Main Street in downtown Kansas City, and will link the city’s main entertainment venues with transit centers and arts districts.

The system is expected to become operational in mid-2015, but the project is already benefitting downtown. Thirty-three development projects have been completed, are under construction or have been announced within the boundaries of the Transportation Development District since Kansas City voters gave the go ahead to streetcar last year, according to the Downtown Council of Kansas City. Here’s a map of the streetcar area with all existing and forthcoming developments.

Investors are excited about the Transportation Development District and the City is supporting their interest through a program that minimizes red tape and helps incoming businesses with everything from getting a building permit to guidance through the food permit or liquor license process. “When a building permit gets logged into the planning office, typically, staff would have four weeks to review,” says John Pajor of KCBizCare, who works on the project. “We’ve cut it to two.”

Rick Usher, Assistant City Manager for Small Business, is quick to position the success and importance of the streetcar within the context of the city’s Downtown Area Plan. The plan lays out goals to double Kansas City’s downtown population and employment with the help of these strategies. “Our community members want pedestrian throughways and improved public transit to better connect the downtown area,” Usher says. “And they want it in part because mixed-use centers and innovative public spaces attract entrepreneurial businesses.”

The strategies are beginning to work. After decades of population loss, downtown Kansas City is seeing an uptick in population. Developers are noticing, and so are employers. “Some large companies are relocating downtown to attract the talent they want to employ,” he says. This map of entrepreneurial and creative businesses in downtown shows how close the vast majority of those companies are to the Streetcar route.

In September, Kansas City received a $20 million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to help complete the line and continue the economic development momentum. TIGER grants are made possible by the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaboration between DOT, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As part of the Partnership’s programs, it is helping communities across the country grow in economically vibrant ways. If you want to see more projects like this happen, speak out to support the Partnership today.

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    One Response to More than a year from operation, Kansas City’s Streetcar is already driving investment downtown

    1. Rick Rybeck says:

      Excellent article with important implications for value capture strategies.

      Some people wait for a transit service or facility to be completed, and then analyze how much land values rise after service begins. As in the case of Kansas City, they might miss the lion’s share of land value appreciation, which may have occurred BEFORE service began in anticipation of its success. A similar phenomenon was witnessed in Washington, DC in advance of the opening of a new Metrorail station between Rhode Island Avenue and Union Station. A “special assessment district” was created before construction began to obtain station funding from landowners who would be the primary beneficiaries of the new station.

      Value-capture strategies need to be agreed upon in advance. It is also important that these strategies recapture and recycle publicly-created land values rather than privately-created building values. Otherwise, we might increase the cost of development near transit which is the opposite of what we want to achieve.

      For more information, see “Using Land Value to Finance Infrastructure and Encourage Compact Development” at https://www.mwcog.org/uploads/committee-documents/k15fVl1f20080424150651.pdf

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