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Why Kansas City's East Side Lags In Economic Development

Elle Moxley

Kansas City, Mo.,  has seen a lot of development in the last few decades — downtown has a new entertainment district, a new arena and performing arts center, and the Crossroads has flourished with boutiques, restaurants, art studios and businesses.

But as the rest of Kansas City grows, the east side remains plagued by crumbling and abandoned homes, crime, and lack of access to grocery and retail.

According to Jeff Pinkerton, senior researcher for the Mid America Regional Council, the average income on the east side is just under $27,000. That's less that half the average for the metro, which is about $57,000. The poverty rate, at 35 percent, is more than twice as high as the metro as a whole, which is down to 12 percent.

“The city has to target, and our city is very big — its 322 square miles and has only 460,000 people to pay for it," urban planner Vicki Noteis told Steve Kraske on Up To Date. "When you have ignored this investment for 65 years, it doesn’t turn around in a day.” 

Bringing retailers to the East side

Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo told Steve Kraske that the city wants to make east side development a priority. She said they've invested in the East Patrol police station, the Blue Hills Business Center at 5008 Prospect, and the Highland Place apartments in the 18th & Vine district, which are 90 percent leased. However, the area still lacks in retail. 

Kerman, who called in to Up To Date, said he lives in the 40th and Prospect area.

"We don't have enough convenience stores that are on the higher end, like Quick Trips, where you can go in, get your morning coffee, and run out like you would on Wornall or other outlying areas," he said.

"Suburbanization" over the last few decades has led to a dilution of the city’s urban circle, and retailers look at incomes and rooftops when they look to develop, Pinkerton told Kraske. 

Developers don’t want to take the risk of developing in a disadvantaged area when they can do it at the same price somewhere else and guarantee themselves a profit, saidNoteis, who is president of Collins, Noteis & Associates L.C., an economic development and urban planning firm in Kansas City.

But if even one big box store were to come to come to the area, they would have a very captive audience, she said using the Costco store in Midtown as an example.

“We had to talk them into going east of Main, and now its a very productive store.”

Cindy Circo says the city is looking at creative ways to bring businesses to the east side. She said they're involved in fundraising to bring a grocery store to 27th and Troost.

“The city will use all the tools we have to make that work, through the federal grant process, TIF (a public financing method), new market tax credit, and even fundraising and other unconventional ways, because we believe its necessary and that it is the right of those neighborhoods,” Circo said.

The school district and vacant school redevelopment

Another caller, Steve, who lives in the Shawnee Mission area commented on schools on the east side, and how improvements to the school system could help bring development to the area.

But Noteis says the school district has no control over that.

"They are dealing with 17,000 kids who live in poverty, on a property tax rate that is nowhere near what it is in Blue Valley or Shawnee Mission or Lee's Summit and the places they compete with, and as long as we pay for schools on property taxes, its going to be unfair,” Noteis said.

Andy and Bryan both responded to this subject on Twitter:

Repopulating the urban core

Councilwoman Circo said that as long as the city recognizes these issues and takes deliberate action to remedy them, there is hope for repopulating the city's urban core and bringing development to the neighborhoods surrounding it. 

Back in the 1990s, MARC had a big part in speaking out about the dangers of sprawl for a city, which was a catalyst for the city's dedication to the downtown area.

“It took twenty years and a lot of concerted effort from Kansas City, Missouri to shift the emphasis downtown. Now, we need to put as much focus and as much energy and resources on neighborhoods as we did to downtown,” Noteis said.

Up To Date wants to continue this conversation on Kansas City's East side development in the coming weeks. If there are voices you would like to hear in this conversation, you can e-mail uptodate@kcur.org.

This look at Kansas City's east side is part of KCUR's ongoing examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR is going Beyond Our Borders to spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We are sharing the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what's being done to bridge or dissolve them. Be a source for Beyond Our Borders: Share your perspective and experiences east of Troost Avenue with KCUR

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.