By Kevin Collison
The Downtown Council is applying for a federal grant to continue planning an estimated $160 million South Loop Link that would create a four-block park spanning the busy freeway that divides the central business district from the Crossroads.
The application is seeking $2.4 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would be matched with $600,000 from local sources to pursue the ambitious endeavor that’s been contemplated for more than a decade.
“It’s going to be a reality check on our willingness to commit to moving forward with the project,” Bill Dietrich, president and CEO, told the Downtown Council board Thursday.
“This came up 10-15 years ago and the market wasn’t ready for it. Today, that area is a very different looking piece of real estate with a lot of new partners…So we think the time is right to do this.”
Substantial development has occurred adjoining the Interstate 670 trench, known as the South Loop, in recent years.
The Cordish Co., which supports the proposal, has developed its Two Light apartment tower and has started work on its Three Light project, both of which overlook the South Loop.
Loews executives also are advocating for the deck to better connect their new convention hotel with downtown.
Also, an entity called Sky Real Estate LLC recently submitted a $254 million apartment development proposal to the city that calls for a 506-unit project on both sides of Main just south of the freeway between Truman Road and 16th Street.
Dietrich said the Downtown Council has established a steering committee for the plan and has met with federal, state and local officials including Sen. Roy Blunt, Gov. Mike Parson, Mayor Quinton Lucas and Jackson County Executive Frank White.
A meeting with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver is scheduled for next week. The Downtown Council also is asking local organizations to write letters to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in support of the application.
The latest iteration of the proposed South Loop Link would cover the freeway from Wyandotte to Grand. Dietrich said the concept calls for the park to feature a terrace from Wyandotte to Baltimore because of the steep grade.
Other uses being considered for the park include flexible lawn space, a pavilion for music and entertainment and a dog park.
A preliminary concept calls for Walnut Street to be closed, but Dietrich said that idea was not a “done deal in any way.”
A consultant has recommended two blocks of the park to be used for programming to help cover the operational cost of the park.
The Downtown Council has looked to Klyde Warren Park in Dallas as an example of a successful freeway decking project. The park, which opened in 2012, covers a three-block stretch of a freeway between the city’s Uptown neighborhood and downtown.
The Dallas project cost about $110 million with the cost split evenly between public and private funding sources. Dietrich said the park’s ongoing operation and programming is being funded privately.
“People will pay a premium to be around this kind of amenity,” he told the board.
The cost of the proposed South Loop Link project could be divided evenly between local, Missouri Department of Transportation and federal sources, Dietrich said.
“With the stimulus bill coming out in post-Covid recovery there may be chance to pull some more federal largesse at this time,” he added.
“Strategically, this is the right time to look at it.”
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