A sweeping proposal to revive the eastern side of Kansas City, Missouri, received support and skepticism from neighbors Wednesday at a public hearing.
The “Revive the East Side” initiative, sponsored by 6th district councilman and 2019 mayoral candidate Scott Taylor, would, among other things, establish a $10 million home improvement fund, create tax credits to encourage hiring workers who live in high unemployment areas, improve trash collection and “protect long-time residents against gentrification.”
All this would happen within the “East Side Investment Zone” a wide swath of the city between 4th Street and 95th street, Troost Avenue and the city’s eastern boundary.
Taylor said during his two terms on the city council, he’s seen investment downtown, in the West Bottoms, in the River Market and along the riverfront.
“We have a very strong local economy right now, we are in the best position we’ve ever been to make these types of aggressive investments on the east side,” Taylor said.
But while many community members who testified before the Planning, Zoning and Economic Development committee commended the spirit of the ordinance, some questioned whether their neighborhoods would see the benefit.
Keith Brown, who serves as the 2nd Ward Jackson County committeeman, says the area east of Troost but West of Indiana has seen some economic development in the past few years. He worried the part of the city east of Cleveland could, once again, be locked out of the benefits of the program.
“These are poor neighborhoods, but they are neighborhoods that if we are going to thrive and be one city that we have to make sure that based upon the data, that those neighborhoods are included in this,” Brown said.
Rev. Sam Mann, a long time civil rights activist in Kansas City, echoed that thought, saying Troost Avenue, which has long been considered a racial dividing line in Kansas City, “is getting awfully white.”
Mann, who is white, told the council committee he wanted to make sure that the program befits people who currently live in the targeted area, which is majority black, rather than solely attract people from other parts of the city.
He also encouraged the council to work with the myriad of small organizations that already exist in the area, as well as other initiatives, like the 1/8-cent economic development sales tax voters approved in 2017 that targets much of the same area.
“I hope you do try to pull those things together and coordinate them,” Mann said.
But Nia Webster-Richardson said she was concerned with a part of the measure that would begin an umbrella community development corporation to coordinate smaller neighborhood associations. She says such organizations already exist.
“We need investment in our assets that we currently have to build upon and not the creation of new ones to allow others to come into our community,” Richardson said.
Others who testified at Wednesday’s meeting questioned the motivation behind the ordinance.
Allison McDonald doubted how much the committee who worked on the ordinance actually knew the community they are trying to help. Taylor, who sponsored the ordinance and convened a committee to help him craft it, does not live within the boundaries of the proposed investment zone.
“How can you find a solution when you are not in our area, you’re not visiting with our people?”
McDonald said the handful of people who might show up to a community meeting are not representative of the entire community. She said she is tired of seeing efforts fail over the years.
“Your solution, unless you know what you’re building for or you’re taking care of, is not going to work, it’s going to be a waste of money, a waste of investment and then you’ll be right back here again,” McDonald said.
Councilman Quinton Lucas suggested reevaluating the boundaries of the target area by looking at historically distressed census tracts. That way, he said, they could narrow it to the most distressed parts of the city.
The committee agreed to continue work on the ordinance for another month. It’s scheduled for another public meeting in September.
Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3 Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.