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Experts Recommend Kansas City Wait On North Loop Redevelopment — For Now

Kevin Collison
KCUR 89.3
Todd Meyer, principal and director of planning for the Forum Studio in Chicago, explains an idea for redeveloping the North Loop near Kansas City's River Market. Meyer was part of a panel of experts that presented Friday.

The North Loop freeway that divides the River Market from the rest of downtown won’t be going away anytime soon if the advice of a panel of national urban planning experts is followed.

Bottom line, there’s too much easily developable land already available downtown to make it cost effective to redevelop the North Loop corridor, concluded the group from the Urban Land Institute.

“Our panel believes now is not the optimal time to pursue redevelopment in that area,” says Glenda Hood, the chairwoman of the ULI panel and the former mayor of Orlando, Florida. 

The group of experts was invited by the city this week to study the North Loop, a stretch of Interstate 70, and come up with strategies for its future including removing it, replacing it with a boulevard and/or decking it.

Credit Kevin Collison / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Experts on an Urban Land Institute panel recommended lowering Missouri 9 to grade to reconnect Independence Avenue and River Market.

Although no cost estimates were provided, Adam Weers, a principal at Trammell Crow from Washington D.C., says real estate values downtown would not make the expense of any of those redevelopment options worthwhile, at least on a market basis, until at least 2028.

“The city should prioritize its investments,” Weers said. “Pursuing development on the North Loop would not be a wise investment today.”

Instead, the panel suggested the city’s priorities in the North Loop study area should be to repair or replace the aging Buck O’Neil Bridge, lower Missouri 9 to grade and reconnect Independence Avenue.

“The barriers of bringing Highway 9 back to grade are far fewer than the North Loop and the benefits are great,” says Bill Clarke, a planning consultant from Ross, California. 

Those ULI suggestions matchup with preliminary proposals being examined in a separate “Beyond the Loop” study currently being conducted by the Mid-America Regional Council.

Currently, Missouri 9 crosses the River Market atop an embankment that not only cuts off the River Market from the Columbus Park neighborhood to the east, but also blocks Independence Avenue.

Credit Urban Land Institute
An illustration that shows a concept for redeveloping the North Loop.

Lowering the highway to grade level would reconnect those two neighborhoods and restore Independence Avenue as a primary artery between downtown and northeast Kansas City.

“Independence Avenue is important for neighborhoods and businesses as a corridor,” says John Paul Weesner, a landscape architect from Orlando, Florida, “and it also would help the River Market connect to downtown as well.”

If the city did decide to make major investments to redevelop the North Loop itself, it could free up 30 acres of land, and attract up to 3.5 million square feet of office and residential development, Weers says.

“But there are numerous alternative development sites around the area that would cost less than redeveloping the North Loop,” he says.

About 120 people came to the Kansas City Power & Light Energy Center downtown to hear the ULI panel’s observations. The group’s visit was sponsored by the city.

“We appreciated having experts with a different set of perspectives and points of view,” says Bob Langenkamp, executive director of the Economic Development Corp. of Kansas City.

“They gave us a good set of recommendations and a plan to move forward.”

Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.

Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.
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