By Kevin Collison
Diane Burnette has one big regret leaving Midtown KC Now, formerly MainCor, for a new job with the Urban Land Institute in Washington D.C. after leading the key Main Street organization 16 years.
“The one thing that bums me out,” she said, “I worked hard to get to this point and I’m leaving when the streetcar is coming.”
“Once it opens its doors, I’ll be back to Kansas City and be part of it. It will be so exciting to see stuff in those vacant storefronts.”
And when that planned streetcar extension on Main Street from downtown to UMKC arrives, hopefully in late 2024, the corridor will be ready thanks to the groundwork done by Midtown KC under her leadership.
Back in 2003, when Burnette first took over, what was then MainCor was fighting a rear guard battle to prevent what at one time was a premier artery in Kansas City from declining further.
“I inherited a reactive organization,” she said. “When something would happen, they’d rally the troops and fight for the good and against the bad.”
A pivotal moment occurred in 2007 with the establishment of the Main Street Community Improvement District from 27th to 47th streets.
The CID used tax increment financing revenues generated by the new Federal Reserve Bank and the existing 43rd and Main TIF to rebuild the streetscape, adding new streetlights, signage and crosswalks.
MainCor hired a platoon of CID staff garbed in red and black uniforms to maintain that streetscape and provide additional eyes and ears for security.
And it worked.
“When the CID started, we started a program called repeat nuisance offenders,” she said “At first, we had 30 people on the list. Now it’s five.”
Thanks in part to the CID and major investments by MAC Properties renovating historic buildings along Armour Boulevard into hundreds of new apartments, Main Street is getting its momentum back.
“Midtown is a big attraction for the next generation to live,” Burnette said. “They want to walk to services, get coffee, go to the bar and be part of the community.
“The CID’s staff presence on the street has helped people feel safe walking.”
Midtown KC Now also has laid the groundwork for further development along Main, creating an overlay district to guide planning for the boom expected to accompany the streetcar extension.
“Over time, it’s become a proactive organization,” Burnette said.
Already, developers are snapping up properties. The historic Netherland Hotel and adjoining Monarch Storage building are in the middle of a $34 million renovation into apartments by Exact Partners.
Exact recently announced plans for a $8 million renovation of the historic Kansas City Armory at 36th and Main. Burnette said a small grocery store is in the works and Price Brothers has bought property at the northeast corner of 31st and Main for development.
The historic Katz Drug Store at Westport Road and Main also is being marketed by Redeemer Fellowship Church for the right user, she said, and American Century is open to potential development for property it controls at 43rd and Main.
And in a proactive move, the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority has recommended a plan that’s now before the Kansas City Council to encourage the development of affordable housing along Main.
Burnette said the revival of Main has been good not only for all the new residents attracted to its renovated historic buildings and businesses, but the existing neighborhood of single-family homes and apartment buildings that adjoin it.
“It’s a very accepting, diverse population of people who appreciate the architecture and older homes,” she said.
“The streetcar will bring more people who will be using the streets and sidewalks, which they were originally built to do, and at the same time the neighborhood will get more services they can walk to.”
While she’ll be missed on Main Street, Burnette’s departure also will be a loss to the greater community.
She serves on the City Plan Commission, is chair of the Trustees of the Jackson County Land Trust and is on the advisory board of the Friends of the Arts at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
And before all her public work, Burnette owned and operated Muddy’s Coffeehouse for 17 years.
It was her work on the Urban Land Institute district council in Kansas City that caught the eye of the national organization. She helped launch the local ULI Woman’s Leadership Initiative and Technical Assistance Panel program.
Her new gig in Washington will be vice president of District Councils where she’ll serve as a liaison between the national organization and its chapters throughout much of the U.S. and Canada including Kansas City and St. Louis.
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