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Petitioners Want To See Kansas City's Streetcar Head South

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Cody Newill
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KCUR 89.3
It's up to a Jackson County judge to determine if a proposal to expand Kansas City's streetcar system south is legal.

Supporters of a $227 million plan to expand Kansas City’s streetcar system south to UMKC got their day in court Thursday – as did opponents.

“Putting down rails is something you do to invest for the century,” says Midtown resident Ryan Mott, adding that two blighted homes in his neighborhood have sold amid speculation that the streetcar is headed their way.

Gib Kerr, a commercial real estate broker at Cushman & Wakefield, says he’s spent most of the last 20 years watching companies leave downtown.

But that’s changed in recent years amid excitement around the downtown starter line. Investors, he says, love transit-oriented development.

“When they see the fixed rail in the street, that the city’s made a $100 million dollar investment, that acts like a magnetic force,” Kerr says.

He says the mere possibility that the city might expand the streetcar line south to 51st Street and Brookside Boulevard has helped boost Midtown real estate prices.

Dan Coffey, a frequent critic of special taxing districts like the one petitioners are proposing, says the plan is vague and underestimates the costs of relocating utilities such as water and gas.

“It says, ‘Well, we might do this, and the city may do this.’ That’s not what the statute calls for. You need to nail this stuff down.”

Coffey says his petition to stop the construction of a new convention hotel was thrown out for that very reason, so he thinks this proposal should be tossed, too.

“It’s not fair for a small number of voters to commit the entire city to hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses for years to come,” Coffey says.

Kansas City voters have already rejected one proposed expansion of the streetcar system. That plan, which would have taken the streetcar east and west, failed to gain traction on the east side. This proposal would only go to voters along Main Street, who’ve been generally supportive of streetcar expansion.

“What this plan does is gives the opportunity for those people who have consistently supported it, who have shown that they see the benefit of it, to go ahead and support a plan that their neighborhood can benefit from,” says Matt Staub of Streetcar Neighbors, one of the groups that advocated for construction of the downtown starter line.

Sherry DeJanes of SMARTKC, which she says supports modern, affordable transit for the region, objected to the possibility of a mail-in election. She says few voters would go to the trouble of having their ballot notarized.

“Most people aren’t going to have the initiative to do that,” DeJanes says.

Rev. Gary Ziuraitis, of Redemptorist Church, had a very practical concern – he’s worried that his nonprofit will see a special assessment on property it owns within the proposed Transportation Development District.

It’s now up to Jackson County Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs to determine the legality of the proposal. If Youngs says the petition is legal, it could go to voters as soon as next year with an anticipated opening of 2022.

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

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