By Kevin Collison
Federal elected officials joined Mayor Quinton Lucas Friday to say they’re confident funding can be arranged to build a four-block park deck over the South Loop.
“This is going to be the rare project where we announced it, we talked about it, but you will see shovels in the ground soon,” Lucas said. “You’ll see a cap over 670 and more than anything, you’ll continue to see a new downtown.”
The announcement was made at press conference in the Loews Convention Hotel lobby shortly before the annual luncheon of the Downtown Council
Financial details were sketchy, but city officials say they have a verbal commitment from the ownerds of the new Loews for $5 million to begin engineering work.
Other private donors are expected to include The Cordish Cos. and the Merriman family.
Sen. Roy Blunt and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said they’re confident federal money will be forthcoming including a $25 million RAISE grant.
The state also is expected to support the project with a potential $25 million initial pledge.
“We have very big commitments from our state and federal partners for funding,” said City Manager Brian Platt. “We also have some private contributions, particularly from the Loews itself that’s going to get the engineering and design phase started.
“We are finalizing the funding details for the first phase of it as we go through the design phase. We’re already off to the races with it and we’re really excited about it.”
Blunt said the project would go a long ways to healing what he referred to as the “Kansas City Cut.”
“We went outside looking at the potential of what could happen here when the so-called Kansas City Cut was made to create speedy transportation,” the senator said.
“I don’t think there was a lot of thought then in Kansas City or in all kinds of other places around America about what happens when you create that kind of division in a community.
“It’s an opportunity to create a parklike environment in the middle of all this new business including hotels and residential development. It’s another reason people want to be here.”
Platt said work could begin in about 12 to 18 months. The preliminary plan calls for the project to be built in one-block sections beginning at Wyandotte and moving east to Grand.
The estimated cost is $30 million per block.
The idea of decking the South Loop with a park has been discussed for more then a decade but momentum has picked up the past couple years.
The Downtown Council, which is leading the effort, had established a steering committee and has met with federal, state and local officials including Sen. Blunt, Gov. Mike Parson and Jackson County Executive Frank White.
Last summer, the Council applied unsuccessfully 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 South Loop Link 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.
“This is an exciting project for this city,” Platt said. “It brings much needed green space to downtown, it connects neighborhoods that were previously separated by this highway.
“It is the foundation of building a truly urban, walkable downtown area and it unlocks development opportunities south of the highway here.”
The city manager also said other parts of the Kansas City where highways divide communities are being considered for similar projects including U.S 71 where it cuts off the east side of downtown from the neighborhoods.
“It’s a framework for doing this in other places,” he said.
“We have a lot of highways in the city and its not the only place we’re thinking about how we can improve the quality of life for our residents.”
A South Loop deck and park would greatly benefit both the hotel and the apartment buildings developed by Cordish.
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 has said previously the city’s success obtaining $174 million from the Federal Transit Administration to extend the streetcar from downtown to UMKC was another favorable indication for Kansas City obtaining federal help on the South Loop proposal.
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.
And while building a four-block park above the busy I-670 trench is an ambitious endeavor, Lucas said he’d like to go farther, potentially to Oak Street.
“My goal honestly is to get us all the way to the other side of The Star’s old printing press which would be longer than what was planned,” the mayor said.
“Just because of the nexus it would have with the T-Mobile center and that urban quarter, particularly if you talk about downtown baseball and long term walkability.”
Don’t miss any downtown news, sign up for our weekly CityScene KC email review here.