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Dogs Get In On The Action As Kansas City's Riverfront Finally Begins To Develop

Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
RoKC Climbing Gym built a climbing wall for dogs at the new Bar K Dog Park near Berkley Riverfront Park.

For decades, except for an occasional festival along the banks of the Missouri River, few Kansas Citians had much reason to visit Berkley Riverfront Park. And even if people wanted to visit the park named for former Mayor Richard L. Berkley, it was hard to get there.

But these days, more joggers, bikers, volleyball players and dog walkers are taking advantage of the park, residents have begun moving into the luxury Union Berkley Riverfront apartments, and Port KC has proposed extending the streetcar line to the park.

With all that momentum, Leib Dodell and David Hensley saw an opportunity: A boutique dog park, set to open on August 14.

Bar K Dog Park combines a dog park, restaurant, coffee bar, event space, obedience school and groomer, all housed in an industrial structure made of multi-colored shipping containers just north of the River Market under the ASB bridge. A one-year membership is $225 for the first dog, $25 for each additional dog, while non-members can come with a day pass for $10.

Dodell, a former lawyer and media insurance broker, says he and Hensley came up with the idea because they wanted a place where dog people like them could hang out with friends — and their dogs.

“Yes, there are public dog parks — we’re actually very lucky in Kansas City to have a number of them,” Dodell says. “But there’s nothing for the humans to do. And conversely, there are some bars and restaurants that allow dogs on their patios. The humans have a great experience, but dogs are confined on a leash."

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Portraits of Dodell and Hensley's dogs, Bear and Bishop, are prominently displayed in the restaurant.

More than a third of American households own a dog, almost 44 million homes. The pet industry is estimated to be worth more than $72 billion dollars this year. Around the country, entrepreneurs are  recognizing the potentially lucrative market. Dog-friendly restaurants, most with canine menus, are popping up. Many cities have dog parks with snacks and drinks for humans.

Bar K's restaurant will be for people only, but owners can leave their pet outside under the supervision of trained dog watchers.

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Bar K features an outside bar and amphitheater for people. Nearby, there's a splash pool with cabanas for the dogs.

From time to time, speakers will come to talk about animal health, training and nutrition.

The largest green space spreads out beneath the massive ASB bridge. In the middle, RoKC  has built a custom climbing-gym for dogs — a tiny mountain with pegs for the dogs to climb.

“It’s got five different slopes,” Dodell says, “each a different degree of difficulty. People can challenge their dogs to climb higher up.”

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Just north of the River Market, Bar K is right next to new, high-end apartments, marketed to people with 'active lives.'

Gazing east from the glass enclosed lounge are the Bond Bridge and the newly opened Union Berkley Riverfront apartments.

"We're coming in at at a time when Kansas City is finally beginning to recognize what it has in its river," Dodell says. "Why not enjoy that with your dog?"

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. You can reach her via email at lauraz@kcur.org or via twitter @laurazig.

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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