Port KC Establishing District to Fund Riverfront Streetcar Plan

A rendering of how the Berkley Park streetcar station would look. (Rendering from KC Streetcar Authority)

By Kevin Collison

Port KC took the first step towards funding its share of the planned streetcar extension to Berkley Park this week when its development committee endorsed creating a special riverfront taxing district.

Launching what would be called Port Improvement District 6 still requires approval from the full board and support from property owners, but if successful, it would be a critical source of financing for the estimated $35 million extension.

“It’s a big component of our overall funding strategy,” said Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority.

The Port Improvement District would add a one-cent sales tax to purchases and a property tax surcharge to property owners in the riverfront area. A similar development district is being used to finance the local share of the Main Street extension.

An estimate made a year ago projected the special taxes from the Port District would yield $22 million over 30 years.

Rails already have been delivered to the riverfront for the extension of the streetcar.

That estimate however, occurred before the announcement of the $117 million Kansas City Current women’s professional soccer stadium now being built on the east side of Port KC property. It’s expected to open next year.

A consultant’s report last summer estimated the stadium and spinoff development could yield $3.9 million in new revenues to Port KC over 30 years. It anticipated 500 apartments and 60,000 square-feet of retail space could be built.

Port KC also recently announced that a 8,200 square-foot beer garden is planned for Berkley Park that would be operated by the owner of the $30 million, 120-room Origin KC hotel now under construction at the riverfront.

“The more successful the riverfront is, the more money we generate,” City Councilman Kevin O’Neill, a member of the Port KC development committee, said.

If the petition is successful and the improvement district is approved by the full Port KC board, it would begin collecting the additional taxes next spring or summer.

The streetcar extension will go .7 miles from the River Market to the midpoint of the south side of Berkley Park. (Map from KC Streetcar Authority)

Gerend said planning for the riverfront extension of the streetcar is far along with bids expected to go out this summer. Rail already is being delivered for what will be a .7 mile extension from the River Market to the midpoint of the south edge of Berkley Park.

“As we get solid bids, our hope is by late summer we can begin physical construction,” Gerend said.

Other funding for the project is a $14.2 million grant from the federal BUILD program. More federal funds are expected to come from the KC Area Transportation Authority’s federal transit allocation.

Gerend noted the new riverfront streetcar extension will serve an area that a few years ago was undeveloped.

“Just like Main Street, we have so much going on on our riverfront,” he said. “When we started planning, there was nothing.”

A pedestrian and bicycle bridge planned to run parallel to the Grand Viaduct is expected now to be completed in 2025. (Rendering from Streetcar Authority)

Eight new streetcars also are expected to be delivered by the end of this year, expanding the fleet to 14. They will service the entire newly-expanded streetcar route which will run from the University of Missouri-Kansas City to Berkley Park.

In addition to the streetcar extension, work is expected to begin this year on a bicycle and pedestrian bridge paralleling the Grand Viaduct to the riverfront. That $5.25 million project is being built by the city, Streetcar Authority and KCATA.

If all goes according to schedule, the streetcar extensions to the riverfront and UMKC, and the pedestrian-bicycle bridge will be ready in 2025.

Gerend said the Main Street extension is on schedule with 40 percent of the track construction completed.

“We’re getting close to actually starting testing in late 2024, that’s just 18 months from now,” he said.

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