By Kevin Collison
Those downtown “bumble bees” you see daily cleaning, tending landscaping and helping you feel safe will be buzzing for another 15 years thanks to the recent renewal of the Downtown Council Community Improvement District.
The 60 men and women wearing the distinctive black and yellow CID uniforms, referred to as Ambassadors, may not be redeveloping buildings or opening businesses, but they’ve been a vital part of downtown’s revival since 2003, taking care of the “spaces between spaces.”
“My philosophy is if we create an environment that’s conducive, investment will follow,” said Sean O’Byrne, executive director of the CID.
“Since 2003, we’ve had over $6.5 billion in reinvestment and there’s billions more in the pipeline right now.”
The Kansas City Council recently approved a 15-year extension of the CID that will keep it going until 2034. It wasn’t a shoo-in. The program is funded by a tax surcharge downtown property owners impose on themselves.
As part of the process, the Downtown Council had to obtain signatures representing both 50 percent of downtown property owners by value as well as per capita.
But O’Byrne said it was easier than persuading downtown property owners of the merits of the CID idea in 2002. At that time, there had been a long stalemate between owners and City Hall that left downtown looking tired and neglected.
Sidewalks and curbs were crumbling, storm drains caving in, landscape trees dying in their planters and cables were stretched haphazardly to street lights, the only warning being an orange traffic cone.
“People would say, ‘I’m already paying (taxes) for safety and services, why pay twice?’,” O’Byrne recalled. “But the idea of having one voice for property management was appealing.
“If you have to walk through ‘Beirut’ to get to your car, it makes it more difficult to lease space and attract customers to your door…you need an environment that’s clean and safe. You need to take a holistic view.”
Since then, the community improvement district has grown to become much more than a cleaning, maintenance and safety operation. It’s played a key role in helping the homeless population, opening the Downtown Community Services Center at Eighth and The Paseo.
The services center recently served its one millionth hot meal and in addition, the facility offers services with the goal of helping the homeless get off the street and into permanent housing. Last year alone, 470 people found a home with its assistance.
The Ambassadors are a reassuring regular presence on the downtown streetcar, and the CID also has agreements with provide concierge service to the Downtown Central Library and the 18th and Vine Jazz District.
The Downtown CID also has a contract to manage a separate improvement district established in the River Market in 2008.
Other highlights from its first 15 years include removing approximately 213,000 bags of litter, enough to fill 12 Olympic-size pools; helping the Crossroads Academy launch its downtown schools; answering 410,000 calls for service, and removing 24,000 graffiti tags, the equivalent of 12 highway billboards.
Goals for the next 15 years include removing trash and debris throughout the entire district twice daily; remove all graffiti within 48 hours; identify more landscaping opportunities, and removing snow from all ADA crosswalk ramps and bridges.
To ask for assistance from an Ambassador, call 816-421-1539.
Last year also saw the loss of a couple of longtime CID champions.
Jeff Tubbs, who started as one of the original Ambassadors in 2003 and rose to became operations manager, died in April. He was 55. Harvey Fried, a founding CID board member and longtime Downtown Council champion, also passed away in April at age 92.
At a gathering in May, it was announced the Downtown Council was establishing a Harvey Fried Award to honor outstanding service by CID Ambassadors.
“Harvey had a special place in his heart for our Ambassadors, and I want them to know his legacy,” O’Byrne told people at the event.
“The awards will be presented in recognition of leadership, esprit de corps, compassion to others and above all else, kindness.”
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