By Kevin Collison
The 18th and Vine District is looking forward to transforming its main drag into a more pedestrian-friendly corridor that can be closed temporarily for events thanks to $4 million in the new federal budget.
The money obtained by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver and matched by at least $2.5 million and up to $4 million in city funding will allow completion of the first phase of the 18th and Vine improvement plan.
The plan calls for rebuilding 18th Street between The Paseo and Woodland Avenue to become a seamless pedestrian corridor.
Curbs and gutters will be removed to create a single surface with 25-foot sidewalks flanking two lanes of traffic. Parking will be eliminated along that stretch with a drop-off area planned near the Gem Theater.
It’s planned to be well landscaped with a small public square for performances next to the Gem at 18th and Highland.
Attractive gates at The Paseo and Woodland entrances are to be installed to close the entire corridor for special events.
Leonard Graham said the project will help realize the promise of the 18th and Vine District, a major public-private revitalization initiative that began in the 1990s. His firm, Taliaferro & Browne, is partnering with Olsson Studio on the 18th and Vine Pedestrian Plaza project.
“This is not just another project for me, it’s something that means a lot,” he said.
“Eighteenth and Vine is the heart and soul of the African-American community in Kansas City and we want to make sure its done in an appropriate manner.
“We want to provide an 18th Street that’s worthy of the district and will spur further development.”
The project is coming at a time several big investments are underway in the area: the $25 million One Nine Vine apartment project; $20 million Zhou B. Art Center, 1815 Woodland; $5 million 2000 Vine mixed-use renovation project, and a $23 million residential renovation project on Vine between 18th and 19th streets.
City Councilwoman Melissa Robinson, who represents the district, said the 18th Street Pedestrian Plaza project is the result of a city improvement initiative for the District that began seven years ago.
“We took to heart ensuring it would be something the community could be proud of and be involved in the design,” she said. “I feel good about where we are from a design perspective.”
City public works officials say $2.5 million has been identified for matching the federal funds for the project, but Robinson is confident she’ll be able to obtain a full, $4 million local match.
“We’re making sure that match happens,” she said.
The design work is expected to take most of 2023. Construction would begin in late 2023 or early 2024. Completion is anticipated by early 2025.
Graham said the intention is to enliven the street and allow activity from its performance venues, restaurants and bars to “flow out” into the corridor.
He compared the experience with what he’s observed at Beale Street in Memphis and U Street in Washington D.C., but with a key distinction.
“We understand 18th and Vine is an entertainment district but it’s also a neighborhood,” he said. “We want it to be a neighborhood first with entertainment.”
As for maintaining the 18th Street improvements, the area is considering the establishment of a community improvement district similar to those being used in downtown Kansas City, Westport, Main Street in Midtown and other areas.
Right now however, the existing business community in the 18th and Vine District probably isn’t large enough to provide the funding needed for a successful CID, Graham noted.
He said it may be necessary for the city to subsidize a community improvement district until the area is more robust.
“We don’t want to put the time and effort to make 18th Street as much as it could be and then fail for lack of maintenance,” he said.
Chad Thompson, the project manager for the city, said the federal money was critical to moving forward with the plan.
“It’s been crucial in making this a reality,” he said. “Without federal funds, there was no way to do this as a city project.”
Graham added that businessman Ollie Gates worked with Congressman Cleaver on obtaining the funding.
“Ollie has a great interest in the 18th and Vine District and is one of the people who pushed to get money into the (18th and Vine) District,” he said.
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