Port KC Issues Creative Challenge for Derelict Riverfront Wharf

Jon Stephens, president and CEO of Port KC, would like to see the derelict concrete wharf behind him transformed into public art.

By Kevin Collison

When things got tough for artists during the Depression, Washington hired many to paint murals and take photographs through the New Deal’s Public Works of Arts Project.

Now, Jon Stephens, president and CEO of Port KC, is pursuing a similar idea, albeit on a much smaller scale.

He’s inviting local artists struggling because of the coronavirus slowdown to submit ideas for transforming what’s now a graffiti-splattered massive concrete platform beneath the overlook of the Town of Kansas Bridge into a work of public art.

Stephens said he got the idea last week while walking the Riverfront Trail, a scenic walkway  maintained by PortKC that extends from the Town of Kansas pedestrian bridge at the foot of Main all the way to Berkley Riverfront Park.

“I just thought artists will be struggling for projects like everyone else, if someone wants to come up with an idea on us and approach us on it, why not?

“Something that projects the spirit of Kansas City. It’s a highly-visible spot from the Town of Kansas Bridge.”

The massive foundation of the old Main Street Wharf lies below the lookout platform of the Town of Kansas Bridge.

That spot is a 175-foot long block of concrete, all that remains of the old Main Street Wharf built in 1911.

Over the years, its been more a target for beer bottles and the occasional paint assault than anything remotely resembling civic-minded art.

“We’d love to have a local artist make it something interesting,” Stephens said.

“At this point, we don’t have something budgeted, but I thought having art there for people using the riverfront trail would be important.

“We can look at what people come up with and try to find a stipend.”

Stephens said artists or anyone creative could come up with an idea for the entire derelict wharf or part of it. He wants people to email their ideas to him at jstephens@portkc.com.

As for who will judge submissions, he’s thinking about enlisting ArtsKC and similar arts organizations to help. Right now, Stephens has a loose deadline of the end of March for responses, but that’s not set in concrete.

“Nothing’s been finalized,” he said, “I just thought it would be supportive of Kansas City.”

The Town of Kansas Bridge is a pedestrian span extending to the riverfront from the foot of Main Street.

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  1. The fact that the elevator “for bicyclists” still operates from the platform to the bike path below after 20 years or so is a minor miracle.

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