By Kevin Collison
The Kansas City Streetcar Authority may push its planned riverfront extension to the Isle of Capri, a strategic move that would connect the isolated casino to major downtown convention hotels.
While the idea is still in the early stages, officials note the link to the gambling destination could bolster the city’s appeal to conventions, invigorate the area’s weakest casino and as a side deal, offer a major park-and-ride option for Northlanders.
“This location could potentially provide opportunity for future regional park and ride, Northland bus transfer connections, and further promote riverfront and casino redevelopment,” said Tom Gerend, executive director of the streetcar authority.
“This is simply an early investigation,” he added, “and thus it is important to note no funding strategy or timeline has been identified, and this evaluation will not impede or slow efforts on the primary riverfront extension project.”
The authority already is working with Port KC and the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority on a plan that would extend the current streetcar route about a half mile from its current terminus in the River Market to Berkley Riverfront Park.
The additional stretch to the Isle of Capri would be about one mile and follow an existing right-of-way corridor that passes beneath the Kit Bond Interstate 29/35 bridge to the casino.
Downtown advocates believe connecting the Isle of Capri by streetcar to the new 800-room convention hotel, the Downtown Marriott and Crown Center hotels would create a synergy that would appeal to convention planners and tourists.
“We think it’s a great idea,” said Sean O’Byrne, vice president of the Downtown Council. “It expands the reach of the streetcar and provides much needed parking.
“For the casino, what a wonderful competitive advantage to be connected to every major hotel with free access to their door.”
Gerend said extending the streetcar to the casino also could create a helpful park-and-ride option to Northland commuters. The nearby City Market recently cracked down on drivers parking there for free and jumping on the streetcar to their downtown jobs.
“It has easy access right of the interstate and an under-used parking lot that’s city owned,” he said.
Officials at the Isle of Capri could not be reached for comment.
The casino opened in 1996 as the Flamingo Hilton Riverboat Casino and was purchased by Isle of Capri in 2000. A year ago, Isle of Capri was purchased by Eldorado Resorts.
Under whatever ownership, it has regularly trailed far behind the other major casinos in the metropolitan area in revenues and attendance.
The property the casino is located is leased from Port KC, formerly the Port Authority of Kansas City. The agency receives an annual minimum rent of $2.9 million which it splits with the city.
A spokesperson for Port KC deferred comment to the streetcar authority regarding the casino extension concept, but emphasized its support for bringing the streetcar to the riverfront.
“I would reiterate that Port KC is excited about the opportunity to connect the KC Streetcar to the riverfront working with our partners at KC Streetcar and the KCATA,” said Marisa Cleaver Wamble.
Gerend cautioned the more ambitious concept of extending the streetcar to the casino would not be allowed to hamper the primary goal of bringing the route to Berkley Riverfront Park.
“This is simply an early investigation and thus it is important to note no funding strategy or timeline has been identified, and this evaluation will not impede or slow efforts on the primary riverfront extension project,” he said.
He said work continues on the environmental study for the Berkley Riverfront extension. The streetcar authority has applied for federal funding for that $30 million project through the TIGER Grant program.
The authority also is continuing planning for the proposed extension of the route south on Main Street to the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.
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