By Kevin Collison
A recent trip to Washington has left Mayor Quinton Lucas “bullish” that federal funding to help start building a long-sought deck and park covering the South Loop freeway may be announced before the end of the year.
The mayor said Tuesday his confidence is based on conversations he had with senior officials in the U.S. Department of Transportation about a grant being sought through the agency’s RAISE program.
“I was in D.C. a few weeks ago and it was an incredibly productive trip,” the mayor said. “I’m bullish based on conversations we had.
“Now that the infrastructure bill has passed, I’m expecting information on what’s ahead in calendar year 2021…this (South Loop) application is not only for pre-development, but actual money to help us build the project itself.
“That’s why I’m bullish about it.”
The mayor’s optimism about the South Loop Link proposal came up during his opening remarks at the Downtown Council’s Fifth Annual DowntownKC Office Summit.
Last summer, the Downtown Council applied for what was described as a $2.4 million federal grant to continue planning for the estimated $160 million South Loop Link that would create a park above I-670 that would stretch four blocks.
The proposal calls for the hoped-for RAISE grant to be matched with $600,000 in local funding.
Lucas said the strong local support, along with the willingness from the private sector to contribute to the project, is helping make the city’s case in Washington.
The Downtown Council, which is leading the effort, has established a steering committee and has met with federal, state and local officials including Sen. Roy Blunt, Gov. Mike Parson and Jackson County Executive Frank White.
The mayor also said the plan has support from the Heavy Constructors Association of Kansas City.
Lucas said the Cordish Co. and the owners of the new Loews Convention Hotel are willing to invest in the project. A South Loop deck and park would greatly benefit both the hotel and the apartment buildings developed by Cordish.
Cliff Illig, former Cerner executive and Sporting KC owner, also is a potential private investor in the proposal. Illig owns property on the south side of the I-670 trench along Main.
The Loews Hotel, Two Light apartments and now the Three Light project under construction all overlook the freeway trench and its often loud traffic.
Lucas also said the city’s recent success obtaining $174 million from the Federal Transit Administration to extend the streetcar from downtown to UMKC is another favorable indication for Kansas City obtaining federal help on the South Loop proposal.
The latest iteration of the what is being called the South Loop Link would cover the freeway from Wyandotte to Grand.
It would connect the Central Business District with the Crossroads area, repairing the rupture made when the freeway was built in the 1960s.
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.
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. The park’s ongoing operation and programming is being funded privately.
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