By Kevin Collison
Several prominent Westport merchants have come out against the proposed streetcar extension from downtown to UMKC, apparently believing it won’t deliver enough new customers to justify the additional tax burden.
In the latest campaign filing by SmartKC, a political committee opposed to the streetcar, Westport bars and restaurants including Kelly’s Westport Inn ($1,500), Johnny Kaws ($200), Char Bar ($150) and McCoy’s Public House ($300) were listed as contributors.
Other donors to the anti-streetcar committee included Westport Land Management ($1,500); Miles McMahon of Theatre of the Imagination ($18,376); former DST chief executive Tom McDonnell ($3,000), and mortgage firm owner Jim Nutter Jr. ($5,000).
The Westport area is included in the transportation development district (TDD) established to implement the proposed streetcar extension along Main Street.
The entertainment district is 4 1/2 blocks from the nearest proposed streetcar station at 39th and Main, about a seven minute walk on Main and Westport Road.
A mail-in election is currently underway to authorize the TDD board to raise revenues for the expansion project. The deadline for returning ballots, which have been obtained by about 5,000 people living within the district, is June 12.
If the project moves forward, property owners within the TDD would pay a property tax surcharge and an extra one-cent sales tax to fund its construction and operation.
Calls to most contributors to SmartKC went unanswered, although one Westport business owner who asked not to be identified said he believed the project would add another tax burden without significantly improving his bottom line.
That’s the impression of Sherry DeJanes, the treasurer of SmartKC.
“It’s a diverse group,” she said of the opponents.
“In large part, it’s my belief they’re going to be taxed with a special assessment that will force them to raise prices on customers and they don’t believe they’ll realize any real benefit from it.”
Streetcar advocate David Johnson, past chair of the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance, said experience has shown the downtown streetcar route, which began operating two years ago, has benefited businesses up to six blocks away.
All are within its walking distance or ‘walkshed,’ a planning term.
“Usually, it’s a perception thing,” Johnson said “We’ve found the walkshed is larger than we thought. In a walkable area like Westport and the Country Club Plaza, you can expect to see the same walkshed as we did downtown.”
Former City Councilwoman Jan Marcason, the current TDD chair, said the proposed Main Street extension would benefit the existing Westport entertainment district and encourage redevelopment east toward Main Street.
“I think it will be a big benefit to them,” she said.
McMahon, the biggest contributor to SmartKC, said he opposes the TDD approach to expanding the streetcar because he believes it subverts the political process.
Voters citywide have consistently rejected building rail transit, either light rail or streetcars, McMahon said. With TDD elections, only voters living within its boundaries can participate.
“Every time it’s been voted down until they started creating TDD’s,” he said. “They didn’t want a no answer.”
He described the state-mandated TDD process, a mail-in ballot election managed by the courts, as “ridiculous.”
“This isn’t democracy, this is gerrymandering in my opinion,” he said.
He also noted that churches and non-profits within the TDD would be taxed to support the project, although at a reduced rate.
“I don’t live in the district, I’m just an angry citizen,” McMahon said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
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