Regional Skate Park, Artworks, Could ‘Enhance’ New Buck O’Neil Bridge

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The design of the Buck O'Neil replacement bridge, criticized by some as being a dull, conventional highway bridge, could be enhanced by recommendations in a new report. (Rendering from MoDOT)

(Editor’s note: This article originally was published Feb. 3)

By Kevin Collison

Creating a regional skate park beneath the approach ramps to the new Buck O’Neil Bridge is among the ideas in a report prepared by a group tasked to enliven what’s now a bland infrastructure project.

Work is well underway on the $220 million replacement span that will carry US 169 traffic over the Missouri between downtown and the Northland. It’s expected to be completed in Fall 2024.

But since its final design was revealed a year ago, there’s been dismay the basic concrete highway bridge had no pizzazz.

“There was some disappointment with the way the bridge was going to look as approved by MoDOT,” said former City Councilman Ed Ford, co-chair of the Buck O’Neil bridge enhancement committee.

“It’s what we wanted the bridge to do, but it’s not a Kit Bond iconic bridge or even a Buck O’Neil Bridge in terms of appearance.”

Ideas for enhancing the new bridge include (A) a regional skate park (B) Artwork and tribute signage to the baseball great Buck O’Neil signage on the pedestrian/bicycle paths beneath it and (C) converting the old Buck O’Neil Bridge into a linear park. (Rendering from Bridge Enhancement Committee report)

Bill Dietrich, president and CEO of the Downtown Council and committee co-chair with Ford, said Missouri Department of Transportation officials have been willing to work to improve the appeal of the new bridge.

“One of the things that was important was that the bridge represented well the legacy of Buck O’Neil,” Dietrich said.

“MoDOT recognized that and agreed to focus on the aesthetics of the bridge and empowered us to put a committee together.”

After six months of work, a group that included architects, River Market residents, artists and Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro League Baseball Museum, have submitted a report that will be considered by the full Buck O’Neil Bridge River Crossing Joint Committee.

The most ambitious recommendation by far is a proposal to retain the existing Buck O’Neil Bridge and convert it to a linear park. That idea is being championed by City Councilman Eric Bunch and is supported at City Hall.

Ford said it could cost an estimated $50- to $60 million to stabilize the 65 year-old bridge structure and up to $3 million annually to maintain it. That estimate doesn’t include installing a park.

“The most expensive and maybe the most controversial (recommendation) is saving the old Buck O’Neil Bridge and then turning it into a park,” he said.

A look at how a linear park might work on the O’Neil Bridge. (Rendering by Confluence)

Dietrich acknowledged the grand scope of repurposing the old bridge and said it likely would be considered separately from the other, much more affordable, recommendations made by the bridge enhancement committee.

Those recommendations are:

A regional skate park under the approaches to the new bridge in the River Market. It has the support of MoKan Skates, the founders of the Harrison Street DYI Skate Park in Columbus Park. The report cites other examples around the country of similar skate parks built beneath bridges. Estimated cost: $500,000- to $750,000.

Installing signage along pedestrian and bicycle access routes beneath the new bridge and the nearby River Front Heritage Trail that inform people about the legacy of Buck O’Neil, the Kansas City Monarch baseball great. The Negro League Baseball Museum worked with the committee on the idea. Estimated cost: $250,000.

Building a stair structure at Third and Broadway to allow pedestrians easier and quicker access to the new bridge, which will include a lane for pedestrians and bicyclists. A separate ped/bike ramp already is part of the project. Estimated cost: $500,000.

Creating public art including sculptures and murals that would help memorialize Buck O’Neil. The committee wants the artwork to be installed on both sides of the new bridge. Estimated cost: $1 million.

A skate park beneath a highway overpasses in Miami. (Photo from Bridge Enhancement Committee report)

Ford is particularly excited about the proposals to honor Buck O’Neil and the potential skate park.

“I love the tribute to Buck,” he said. “It’s probably number one on my list that we remember who we named the bridge after. He was such a unifying figure in Kansas City.

“I also love the skate park. To me, it was so creative and it’s very doable.”

Dietrich said the next steps are to discuss the study recommendations with MoDOT officials, city officials and business leaders.

Ford said there may be funding available in MoDOT’s replacement bridge budget to pay for some of the artwork. He also said the area Congressional delegation including Sen. Roy Blunt should be approached for potential federal funding.

“I believe there’s an opportunity with Sen. Blunt and Representatives Graves and Cleaver to receive earmarks,” he said, “but they need to be in $2- to $3 million sums.

“That’s not enough for the (linear park) bridge, but it could pay for a skateboard park and other items.”

You can read the bridge enhancement committee report here.

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