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Kansas City could soon start building a 'once-in-a-lifetime' park that covers I-670 downtown

This stretch of I-670 downtown will be capped as part of a proposed $160 million project.
Frank Morris
This stretch of I-670 downtown will be capped, and officials hope the first two blocks will be finished by the 2026 World Cup.

Kansas City lawmakers recently approved millions in state and federal funding for the four-block South Loop project, getting them significantly closer to their fundraising goal. Officials hope the first half of the park could be finished by the 2026 World Cup.

Kansas City’s plan to build an urban park above a portion of Interstate 670 — capping an unattractive portion of downtown with public green space — is well on its way, with officials saying that construction might begin by the end of the year.

On Thursday, Kansas City Council approved $57 million in state and federal funding for the four-block South Loop project. Officials hope a portion of the park can be completed before soccer fans arrive in Kansas City for the 2026 World Cup.

According to KCUR’s calculations, the recent funding makes for a total of $129.2 million raised, just shy of the $135 million that city officials previously said they need to get construction moving.

Other sources of funding so far include:

  • An anticipated $30 million from Missouri’s 2025 fiscal year budget, which is awaiting approval from Missouri Gov. Mike Parson
  • $10 million in city money
  • $22 million from private donors (including H&R Block, JE Dunn Construction, Americo Life Inc., Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, and Evergy)

The South Loop project also received a state tax credit equivalent to $10 million, according to the mayor’s office. Kansas City applied for $75 million through a federal grant with the U.S. Department of Transportation, but did not receive the money.

Mayor Quinton Lucas, a major advocate for the initiative, said that the city plans to request more federal funding, as well as search for more private corporate and foundation support.

“My preference, of course, is always more private funding,” Lucas said. “Private donors have been an important part of this.”

When it’s all said and done, Kansas City expects the South Loop Project to cost $217.2 million.

Constructing an urban park on top of I-670 would fundamentally change the shape and feel of Kansas City’s downtown. Spanning 5.5 acres above the highway, from Wyandotte Street to Grand Boulevard, the South Loop would provide a public leisure and green space, a feature currently missing from much of downtown.

A graphic shows people enjoying a green park.
City of Kansas City, MO
A rendering of the South Loop above I-670 shows a public green space in the middle of downtown Kansas City.

Capping I-670 would also reduce noise and pollution from cars, and help ease the “heat island” created by all those paved surfaces.

“This is a natural part of how we pitch Kansas City for the future,” Lucas said. “To me, this is an investment on how we can build more revenues for Kansas City long-term to attract more residents, and continue the renaissance downtown that we have seen since I was probably 15 or 16 years old in this city.”

Officials say the South Loop will help connect the business district with the Crossroads. And it falls in line with city efforts to remedy the negative impacts of highway construction.

The city is also pursuing projects to reconnect the disproportionately Black and Latino communities that were severed by development of Highway 71 and I-35, respectively.

“It's going to dramatically reduce the harmful impacts of the highway that's cutting through the middle of downtown,” said Justin Short, policy chair of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. “That’s noise pollution, that's standard carbon emission pollution, because we're talking about planting hundreds of trees and green space and all this stuff.”

Short lives downtown, and is excited that people downtown will have a space to gather in the neighborhood.

“It's one of those once-in-a lifetime, generational projects, like we have had so many of in the past 25 years,” Short said. “This is just another addition to groundbreaking projects in Kansas City.”

Moving forward without the Royals

A rendering shows a walkway and park connecting the proposed Kansas City Royals stadium in the Crossroads and the T-Mobile Center downtown.
Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals released renderings of their proposed stadium in the Crossroads that showed a park over I-670. But the team did not plan to pay for the park's construction.

When the Kansas City Royals released renderings earlier this year of a proposed baseball stadium in the east Crossroads, their designs appeared to factor in a park over I-670.

The team’s renderings added two more blocks to the South Loop, extending it to Locust Street, and raised a pedestrian footbridge connecting the ballpark to the Power and Light.

Except the Royals didn’t actually plan to pay for constructing that section of the park.

In April, Jackson County voters shot down the 3/8ths-cent stadium sales tax extension that was crucial to the Royals’ project, and now the team’s efforts to build a new ballpark and entertainment district are on hold.

Since the Royals’ chunk of the park was never part of Kansas City’s calculations, officials are moving ahead with their original vision — without those extra two blocks.

“In the event that anyone were interested in building more blocks down the way, perhaps we'd welcome that conversation, but they need to figure out a few things: How do you fund it?” Lucas said. “How do you make sure you get the approvals from, particularly [the Missouri Department of Transportation] and our federal partners, to make sure it can get built?”

A graphic shows people enjoying a park.
City of Kansas City, MO
Renderings of the South Loop to cap I-670 downtown shows expansive green space.

The South Loop will be built in stages, instead of all at once. Officials hope that by the time of the World Cup in June 2026, two blocks of the park from Wyandotte Street to Main will be completed.

The park would be managed by city officials, economic development agency Port KC, and the Downtown Council.

Lucas said he does not anticipate completely shutting down highway access during construction.

“Streetcar operations will continue, roadway operations largely will continue as well,” Lucas said. “I expect this to be less obtrusive with lane closures rather than full street closures typically.”

Lucas also said the current plans for the South Loop will not obstruct the KC Streetcar, which runs along Main Street. He pointed to Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, another urban park atop a highway, as an example where a trolley line runs through the park.

In a presentation on a proposed design concept for the South Loop, the westernmost blocks near Bartle Hall will be a “refuge” of greenery, the middle area will be feature playgrounds and an “adventure walk” meant for families, and the easternmost section is envisioned as a “big gathering block” to host events.

The project also proposes making Truman Road narrower through a road diet and adding in a bike lane.

Kansas City officials say they want to complete the full South Loop project by 2030. Lucas said if they can finish fundraising soon, that timeline could shorten to 2028.

Meaning that in just a few years, Kansas City residents could be picnicking on a field instead of staring into seven lanes of traffic.

Updated: May 27, 2024 at 11:13 AM CDT
This article has been updated with new amounts for South Loop funding sources so far, based on new information from the Kansas City mayor's office.
As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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