By Kevin Collison
After decades of being a scraggly backwater, the Kaw River in the West Bottoms will be transformed with a new park and bicycle trail a year from now following action by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County.
The UG commissioners approved an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this week to add what the Corps calls “betterments” to a half-billion dollar levee improvement project now underway.
“Our goal is that while the Army Corps is moving a massive amount of dirt, this is a prime opportunity to get other betterments,” said Katherine Carttar, UG director of economic development.
The approval of the planned Kaw improvements comes during a big week for the future of the downtown waterfront, relegated to industrial status by the late 19th Century and ignored for many decades.
On Tuesday, the owners of the Kansas City National Women’s Soccer League announced they plan to build a $70 million, 11,000-seat stadium on the Missouri riverfront near Berkley Park. It’s expected to open in 2024.
The UG is committed to spending $5.56 million on additional improvements along the Kaw that include a park on the east bank in the Stockyard District of the Bottoms, and building 17 miles of trails along atop the rebuilt Kaw levee system.
A meandering trail also is planned on the more natural west bank of the Kaw near the old Rock Island Bridge. The bridge is slated for redevelopment as an entertainment destination and trail crossing in a separate agreement the UG has made with a private developer.
“Our goal has been to encourage people to access the river,” Carttar said. “We want people to get down there with their kayaks and canoes, and ride bikes on the trail.”
The Kaw also is more user-friendly for small water craft than the Missouri River, flowing at about half the speed of its mighty destination.
The public improvements on the Kansas side are being made when substantial private investments have occurred nearby or are in the works.
The former Kemper Arena was renovated at a cost of $39 million three years ago into an amateur sports complex and rebranded the Hy-Vee Arena. An Indianapolis developer, Flaherty & Collins, completed a 232-unit apartment project called The Yards last year.
And Flaherty & Collins is gearing up to start the next phase of the The Yards development, this time a 224-unit project on the east side of the Kaw that lies in Kansas. A third phase also is envisioned on the Kansas side of the river.
The UG and its designer, HNTB, worked with Flaherty & Collins on the design of the new, approximately two-acre park, which also will be an amenity for residents in the new apartments.
Carttar said the park will include a terraced frontage along the river, a ramp for people to directly access the water, benches and a lookout offering river views. Trailheads also are planned for the levee path system.
If all goes according to schedule, the new bike trails and park are expected to be completed by October 2022.
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