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Kansas City's ‘Revive The East Side’ Plan Moves Forward But Residents Are Still Skeptical

Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
An initiative to revitalize Kansas City's east side would, among other things, create a fund to rehabilitate dangerous homes, like this one, pictured in 2016. A city council committee advanced it, although neighbors remain skeptical.

Residents of the poorest parts of Kansas City are tired of city leaders making promises about investing in the city's east side.

Testifying before the city council about the proposed “Revive the East Side” initiative on Wednesday, Rachel Riley, with the East 23rd Street Pac, said years of neglect have saturated her community with violence, crime and drugs. That has left residents in poor health in deteriorating properties.

“This ordinance is another attempt to hoodwink the east side community,” Riley said.  

That sentiment was echoed by several community members. They were skeptical the city can deliver on the promise to revitalize distressed parts of the city.

The initiative, sponsored by 6th district councilman and 2019 mayoral candidate Scott Taylor, would, among other things, establish a $10 million home improvement fund, improve trash collection and “protect long-time residents against gentrification.”

A city council committee on Thursday moved forward with a more narrowly tailored version of the initiative, and plans to continue making changes before it gets a final vote. 

The original proposal would target a wide swath of the city, bounded by between 4th Street and 95th street, Troost Avenue and the city’s eastern boundary.

Councilmembers agreed to narrow that area to severely distressed census tracts. That would exclude neighborhoods like Beacon Hill and Pendleton Heights, which have seen more economic development.

It would also designate existing groups already committed to east side neighborhoods to manage the initiative, as Rev. Sam Mann called on the council to do, rather than creating a new entity.

Mann said there are several existing groups, like the Central City Economic Development Sales Tax Board and the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, that share the same goals.

“We need to get these plans together and create a Marshall Plan for the east side,” Mann said, referring to the initiative to rebuild western European economies after World War II.

The revised version would also put money toward renovation and reconstruction of homes on the city’s dangerous buildings list rather than demolishing them.

It would also change the name of Paseo Boulevard to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. A committee appointed by the mayor to find ways to honor King recommended naming Kansas City’s planned airport terminal after King, but a group of religious leaders insist Paseo should be renamed.

While many residents said they didn’t trust the plan could deliver, Dr. Rev. Vernon Howard acknowledged to the committee that he had never seen the city put forth a plan that showed such commitment to Kansas City’s east side. But he also issued a warning:

“This is not a shell for white control and manipulation of black land, black consumers and black businesses. If it in practice turns out to be so, then we will have failed our community.”

Correction: Neighborhood advocate Rachel Riley's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. It has since been corrected.

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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