Friday, October 24, 2014

Premier Investments Makes Armourdale Strong

Anyone who has driven on 7th Street in the Armourdale area in the last few months has seen a huge building under construction just to the east of Shawnee Park.

That 170,000 square foot building is located between Shawnee and Osage Avenues (south of Kansas Avenue) and is the latest project of Premier Investments, LLC, a development company that is located in Armourdale and has been doing amazing things to build and strengthen that area of the city for close to 40 years.

Here's a view of the new 170,000 sq. ft. building under construction
(photo taken from the corner of 5th and Osage).

A parent company, Prime Investments, was created by Bill Willhite, Sr. in the mid-1970's. He built or acquired and then leased a couple of buildings himself in the early 1970's and then created the company in the late 1970's.

Since its inception, Prime / Premier has either renovated or built from scratch close to 2 million square feet of industrial space in the Armourdale area. With additional buildings and space in Fairfax and in the river front area of Kansas City, Missouri, the company has created close to 3 million square feet of industrial space.

The new building is represented by the red rectangle.
This map not only shows where the building is located,
but gives you a sense of what a tremendous addition
it is to the Armourdale area.
Bill Willhite, Jr. currently serves as president of Prime / Premier while his sister Kathi Butler serves as vice president. They have both made it clear to me that they value the Armourdale community and are glad that they can contribute to the vitality of the community through their company and their buildings.

Here's another photo of the new building
from the corner of Packard & Osage
This artist's rendering shows how the building
will look when it is completed.
As you see in the drawing above, the buildings that Prime / Premier builds and develops are visually distinctive. They all feature a white exterior above a horizontal blue stripe. Look for that blue stripe the next time you drive through eastern Armourdale.

You can learn more about this new building and about the history of the company through a couple of articles that were published in the Kansas City Business Journal. One article is new (from the March 20, 2014 issue) and the other is a little older (from the June 26, 2005 issue).

Thanks to Bill and Kathi for (literally) building up our community through their work!!

~ Brian
- or -
Suggestion Box (anonymous)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Improving Street and Sidewalk Infrastructure (Part 1)

Back in March, I outlined the huge challenge we have ahead of us to repair and replace aging streets, curbs, sidewalks and alleys in District 2 and throughout the whole city (see "Streets and Sidewalks and Alleys, Oh My").

Since street crews are out in several district neighborhoods right now, I thought this would be a good time to begin introducing you to the alphabet soup of infrastructure repair in the Unified Government.

So... today's blog is brought to you by the letters N, S, R and P. That's shorthand for Neighborhood Street Resurfacing Program.

Each year, the Unified Government dedicates between $2-3 million of its Capital Maintenance and Improvement Projects (CMIP) budget to resurfacing a portion of the asphalt streets in the city. We call this process "grind and overlay" because the top couple of inches of old asphalt are ground off (by a giant and very impressive machine) and a new top layer of asphalt is laid down.

Here's a street that's in the middle of the "grind and overlay" process.
The top layer of old asphalt has been ground off the entire road
and new asphalt has already been laid on the left side of road.

A memo from out County Engineer says that, "Streets are selected based on maintenance history, assessment of condition, and likelihood of benefit from the mill and overlay treatment. Candidate streets are identified from a number of sources, including engineering and maintenance division staff assessments, citizen calls, and Commissioner's observations. It is intended that a resurfacing effort last on a street for 20-30 years. While an overlay does improve the appearance and smoothness of a road — the primary intent of this treatment is to renew the asphalt cap and provide major structural restoration."

UG staff do their best to make sure that we resurface as many miles of streets as possible each year. The sad truth, however, is that we're not currently overlaying enough miles of asphalt streets each year to get them all refreshed every 20-30 years. We need to find more money in our budget to pick up the pace.

Here's a sample of the street maps
that our county engineer provides each year
to illustrate the streets that will be resurfaced.
I generally get maps for about four different locations
within District 2.

Streets are selected for resurfacing a year in advance to allow time to coordinate utility work (e.g., BPU electrical or water service repairs), make any needed sewer repairs, and construct the necessary curb ramp upgrades to comply with ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act - which mandates that any time a street undergoes grind and overlay that "curb cuts" be installed on every street corner that connects to a sidewalk).

Here's a corner where the old sidewalk and curb
have been removed to make way for new ADA ramps (curb cuts).
Once a number of corners have been prepared,
concrete crews pour new concrete
and shape the ADA ramps.
Here's a corner where new ramps have been installed.
Crews will come back to replace the dirt around the sidewalk.
They'll also repair the asphalt that was broken out
to make way for the new curb cuts.

So, there's an example of how we're slowly but steadily chipping away at the infrastructure repairs and improvements that are needed throughout the city. I'll share more of the "alphabet soup" of infrastructure repair in an upcoming post.

Have a great week!
~ Brian
- or -
Suggestion Box (anonymous)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round...

As preschoolers, many of us learned that "the wheels on the bus go round and round..."

But how many of us have actually ridden a bus for anything other than vacation lately?

I was recently named a co-chair of the Regional Transit Coordinating Council, an advisory body to the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) that meets to "address regional transit planning, coordination and implementation of transit priorities."

It struck me as ironic that I'm now engaged with a group that is strategizing on how to improve transit operations in the KC metro area and I haven't been on a KC bus in probably 45 years.

When I was a kid, our family only had one car (like most other families in our neighborhood). So, if dad had the car at work and we wanted to go somewhere farther away than we could walk, we took the bus.

However, like many baby boomers, my bus riding days came to an end when I got my first car as a teenager.

So, last week I made a a spur of the moment decision to ride the KCATA 101 bus route from the downtown neighborhood where I live to Village West and back.

Here's a map of the 101 route from the KCATA web site.
The red dots mark where I got on and off.
(You can click on any picture to see a bigger version)
I'm about to post some observations and thoughts about my trip that will very likely make the regular transit riders among you go, "Well, duh!".

Even though I'm not a regular bus rider, I have an app on my phone called Transit (available for iOS and Android smartphones).

KCATA uploads route information to the web in a format that web sites and apps can access. It's not "real time", but it's a good reference point for the published schedule.

The Transit app on an iPhone screen.
The app also shows "route" maps where you can watch dots representing buses move from stop to stop. However, the app on my phone displayed a disclaimer that the dots move based on the schedule, not the actual location of the bus.

I learned later than KCATA has its own route maps online on a web site called TransitMaster Web Watch. I looked up those maps at: The maps are pretty small on a smartphone, but you can zoom in.

This is KCATA's web site that shows
the actual location of buses
along a selected route.

Clicking on any bus icon brings up
real time route information for that bus.
The "next stop" info wasn't very accurate,
but seeing the location of the bus icon was good enough.

The Transit app said that the next bus on the 101 route would arrive in 8 minutes at the 18th and Minnesota stop.

I walked about 7 blocks from my house to the stop (thankful that it wasn't raining or snowing) and found I was the only person waiting for the bus at that particular stop.

I arrived at the stop at 3:45 and re-checked the schedule board. It said that the next bus was due at 3:49.

That time came and went with no bus. The bus arrived at 4:03 and I wondered, "Is this the 3:49 bus late or the 4:19 bus early?" (wish I'd known about the Web Watch site when I was standing there).

Here's the bus stop at 17th and Minnesota
(marked as 18th and Minnesota on the KCATA map).
This is what I call a "medium" stop.
It has a bench and route map, but no shelter.

If you don't have a smartphone to access apps like Transit,
there are route maps and schedules at many of the stops.

The bus that picked me up was one of the regular-sized 40 seat buses. There were already 22 people on board.

I had read on the KCATA web site that the "one way" fare on a bus is $1.50 and that you get a card with "bus credit" instead of change if you deposit more than $1.50 in the fare box. I was glad I didn't have a $20 bill in my wallet.

I felt bad for everyone else on the bus as I held up progress by fumbling to figure out how to insert two dollar bills into the fare box and get my transfer ticket and bus credit ticket back out of the fare box. (It occurred to me that rookie riders like myself could be one reason buses aren't on time).

I found myself thinking that it would be cool if I could simply swipe my debit card at the fare box and pay the $1.50 fare electronically.

Here's the size bus I rode.

I sat all the way in the back so that I could watch people get on and off. The first thing I noticed was that it was LOUD back there sitting by the engine and the air conditioner. The second thing I noticed was that the bus was clean and all the riders were considerate of each other throughout the ride.

I saw lots of people get on and off between 18th Street and about 78th Street. There were fewer riders between 78th Street and Village West.

The driver definitely kept up a good pace in between stops and the bus arrived at the east end of Village West (by Famous Dave's, Cabela's, Hampton Inn, etc.) at 4:37. That's only 34 minutes to make the trip. Not bad considering all the loading and unloading of passengers we did.

Here's a stop that I guess you could call "full service".
In addition to a bench, it also has a shelter and a sign
with an LED display that shows
route information and bus locations.
I saw very few stops like this along the route.
And I guess you could call this a "bare bones" stop.
Many of the stops I saw along the route
were nothing more than a small sign
strapped to a power pole.
This particular stop has a sidewalk, but I thought I saw
at least one where there wasn't a sidewalk.

I walked across the street and checked the schedule for the eastbound bus that would take me home.

There were buses scheduled at 5:32, 6:02 and 6:32. I had plenty of time to explore Village West on foot.

That's when it hit me... Village West is a pretty "car-centric" place. You have a lot of ground to cover to get from place to place. That's easy in a car, but a lot harder on foot.

I walked from the bus stop to Nebraska Furniture Mart and back. That's a healthy walk, even for someone who is in relatively good shape like me. I could've cut down the distance I needed to walk by getting off at a different stop, but there's still a lot of walking no matter where you get off. I suppose you could also wait for another bus to take you to a different part of the Village West area, but that would be at least a 30 minute wait.

And although there were a lot of great sidewalks, they weren't everywhere that you might need one.

The return bus arrived right at the scheduled time and had me back to 18th and Minnesota in only 35 minutes.

It was pretty daunting to look from the bus stop
and see how far away the shops were.
This was interesting.
These steps lead from the sidewalk
on Village West Parkway down to a parking lot.
I hope we never let it get to the point that
the bush completely covers the sidewalk.

Although I have only scratched the surface of what I need to learn about the bus system, I learned a lot in taking my short trip. Hopefully, I can begin applying my lessons learned immediately And I will be riding again so that I can continue to broaden my first hand transit experience.

As I considered all the enhancements I thought of during my trip (e.g. real-time signs, swiping a debit card in the fare box, more shelters and benches at bus stops, etc.) and all the enhancements that regular transit riders have requested (e.g., bus routes to more places, bigger buses, more buses on weekends, more frequent buses on heavily traveled routes, etc.) it occurred to me that it could take a lot of resources to accomplish even some of the upgrades.

When we already spend several million dollars a year for the current level of service, and when rider fares only account for about 15% of the total money needed to run the bus system, and when the budget is as tight as we currently have in the Unified Government, we're going to have to be very thoughtful and very strategic about how we raise and allocate the resources needed to improve the transit system.

You can also read a post from last fall in which I outline how bus service in Kansas City, Kansas is accomplished by contracting some routes with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and by owning and operating some routes ourselves (through UG Transit). Here's the link:

Until next time, keep those wheels going round and round...

~ Brian
- or -
Suggestion Box

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Walk On the Kaw River Levee Trail

With apologies to George Gershwin... "Summertime and the living is BUSY".

Between UG budget meetings, teaching two 4-credit hour Neuroscience classes at Rockhurst University and a working on an audio project that I almost didn't get finished, I haven't posted a blog since June 22.

Let's change that today.

Earlier this summer, the Unified Government, in collaboration with the Kaw Valley Drainage District opened a 1.3 mile stretch of the Kaw River levee for hiking and biking.

Yesterday, I finally got around to taking a walk on the "Armourdale Hike & Bike Route: Island View Loop".

What I encountered was a relatively flat and surprisingly smooth trail that is well-insulated from vehicle traffic.

You access the trail west of 18th Street under the Kansas Avenue bridge on the north (east) bank of the river. Here's a map that BikeWalkKC posted on their web site (

(Click on any photo to view a larger copy.)

The trail runs east from Kansas Avenue under the 18th Street Expressway and ends at 12th Street. Here are a few photos from my walk.

Don't go up on the Kansas Avenue bridge!
Take the "low road" between the bridge (on the left)
and the Procter and Gamble building (on the right)
At the end of the road under the bridge, you'll find the levee wall.
There's not much in the way of marked spaces,
but there's plenty of room to park.
You have to cross some railroad tracks to get to the trail.
Don't worry, they're not in use!

It's a short walk next to the levee wall
to get up to the trail on top of the levee.
You don't see a ton of the river
because there are lots of trees along the river bank.
But early in your walk, you can see the island
in the river just west of 18th Street Expressway.
Once you get east of 18th Street Expressway
you actually feel like you're out in the country.
Well, except for the rumble of big motors on the surrounding roads
and the train horns from the south side of the river...
... and the old train cars awaiting salvage...
... and a car parts lot...
A locked gate marks the end of the available trail.
That's the 12th Street bridge in the background to the right.
Maybe we'll open more of the levee sometime in the future.
You get great views heading back west as well.
After you get back past 18th Street Expressway
there's a great view of the Kaw River
as it winds off to the north and west.
Pretty neat.
Bet this will look spectacular when the leaves turn in the fall.

Nice little walk. I'll be back. Maybe I'll see you there!

Until then, have a great week.

~ Brian
- or -
Suggestion Box

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fixing "Broken Windows" - Part 1

The "broken window" theory was first published in the March 1982 edition of Atlantic Monthly by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.

Very simply, the theory says that, if a broken window in a vacant building is not repaired, it signals to everyone who passes by that no one cares about the building. More windows will get broken and the building may eventually be broken into and vandalized.

Or, if trash and debris accumulate on a sidewalk or vacant lot, it signals to everyone who passes by that no one cares about the area. More trash will accumulate and the area could become a dumping ground, an eyesore and a health hazard.

Any citizen that lives near "broken window" properties then suffers the negative effects of neglect and blight.

Heartland Habitat for Humanity volunteers clean weeds and debris
from the curb gutter in front of a new home
being built at Osage Avenue and South Valley Street.
(click any photo to see an enlarged version)
The "reverse" broken window theory says that if a broken window is repaired or a littered area is cleaned up, it signals that people really do care and the initial clean up effort spurs even more positive activity.

On June 14th, we began a summer long series of cleanup projects to demonstrate that we do give a darn about our neighborhoods in District 2 and that we are going to work hard to make them the absolute best they can be.

We picked three cleanup areas as "starters". Two were centered around elementary schools and the third was centered around the newly refurbished City View at St. Margaret's loft building. The areas are colored green in the map below. From top to bottom they were:
  • McKinley School / Waterway Park (11th to 14th Streets and Grandview Blvd. to Armstrong Ave.)
  • City View at St. Margaret's (Coy St. to Mill St. and Pacific Avenue to Gilmore Ave.)
  • John Fiske School (12th to 14th and Kansas Ave. to Osage Ave.)

Here's a map that shows the three cleanup areas in green.
I am blessed to have tremendous partners both in the community and in the Unified Government. As usual, a whole bunch of great people did the heavy lifting to make one of my crazy ideas a reality. At the risk of leaving someone out (hope I don't) here are the individuals and organizations that helped to plan and coordinate so that we could make magic happen.

  • Heartland Habitat for Humanity (Tom Lally, Joe Carignan, Brad Leech)
  • Community Housing of Wyandotte County (Donny Smith, Brennan Crawford, Steve Curtis, Claudia Uribe)
  • Central Avenue Betterment Association (Marty Thoennes)
  • Downtown Shareholders (Ed Linnebur)
  • St. Joe Watchdogs Neighborhood Group (Timothy Howe, Steve Kucharo)
  • Cathedral Neighborhood Association (Patty Orth)
  • Armourdale Renewal Association (Patty Dysart)
  • USD 500 (Dr. Evelyn Hill)
  • Community Policing (Sara Lopez, Ryan Parker and Jesus Casas)
  • Unified Government (Kirk Suther, Tim Nick)

With well over 100 volunteers scattered across the three sites, we picked up trash, pulled weeds, cleared vacant lots and scooped up debris from curb gutters and storm drains.

We had distributed flyers about the cleanup to every house in the three areas, so we had lots of local residents pitching in to help. For many, all it took was for us to demonstrate that folks really care about the local community and they jumped in and sweated right along with us. One older gentlemen actually got a little teary-eyed as he watched volunteers clear a vacant lot and an overgrown sidewalk next door to his house.

All together, we filled two-and-a-half dumpsters with "stuff" that was junking up the neighborhoods.

Fox4 news even stopped by to help tell the story of our volunteers' efforts. Click here to see a video of their news story.

Two of our youth volunteers made progress on a vacant lot.

We were back in two of the cleanup areas again yesterday (Saturday, June 21).

Habitat had another great crew cleaning up around a house they are building at the intersection of South Valley St. and Osage Avenue (just two blocks from John Fiske School).

A wonderful house is taking shape at South Valley and Osage.
Thanks to Heartland Habitat for Humanity and Procter & Gamble!!
Habitat for Humanity volunteers work some "curb magic"
on a vacant lot near 14th & Osage.
Habitat staff and volunteers pose for a group photo
before they break for lunch after working
on the house at Osage Avenue and South Valley St.

Meanwhile, I headed back to the Waterway Park area where there are quite a few abandoned and vacant lots. We made good headway on clearing parts of those lots and we planned out our next effort at that location.

Yes, the sidewalk that you see in the upper left of this photo
DOES continue under all the leaves and weeds.
The mud and muck was 6" deep in some spots,
but we got the sidewalk cleared to the point
that you can actually walk on it!!
We pulled weeds and scraped dirt and leaves from curb gutters.
Woohoo! Here's another curb that we "liberated" from grass and weeds.
Looking good.  :-)
Don't feel left out if we didn't include your neighborhood in Round 1 of our cleanups.  As they used to say on the Pinky & the Brain cartoon, we're going to try to "take over the world" this summer. Our plan is to apply the lessons we learned and build new cleanup efforts on top of what we've already done. Our goal is to slowly but surely polish all of District 2.  Stay tuned!  :-)

Have a great week!
~ Brian
- or -
Suggestion Box

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Bright New Day on Minnesota Avenue

Whenever I post historic pictures or postcards of Minnesota Avenue, I always get comments that it's a shame we don't have as much activity as we used to downtown. People tell me that they are sad to see so many vacant buildings and so many fewer people compared to years ago.

Thanks to the investment of a new community partner, two buildings in the 700 block of Minnesota Avenue will be completely renovated and will soon become home to dozens or even hundreds of new workers in our slowly re-growing downtown.

Loretto Properties, LLC is a Kansas City real estate company founded by Lamar Hunt, Jr. and James Arkell. Their motto, “Investing in Families by Investing in Communities” clearly expresses the belief of both men as they work to build up communities throughout the metro.

Both men recently spent some time in downtown KCK and saw enormous development possibilities with a new Transit Center and streetscape at 7th & Minnesota along with several structurally sound buildings that were vacant and ready for redevelopment.

Loretto Properties purchased the building at 730 Minnesota Avenue (where Katz Drug operated on the 1st floor when I was a kid) a couple of months back and has already started the redevelopment work inside that historic structure. They envision a coffee shop and maybe some other shops on the ground floor with state of the art offices above.

Although it housed Katz Drug on the 1st floor when I was a kid,
this building was built in 1910 as Wyandotte Masonic Lodge No. 3.
It had been vacant for years, and
the former owner was 10 years delinquent in paying property taxes.
Those taxes all got paid in full
when Loretto Properties bought the building.

At last Thursday's Unified Government Commission meeting, the Commission voted to approve an agreement in which Loretto would also purchase the "old" EPA building at 736 Minnesota from the UG and redevelop it as well. Between the two buildings, Loretto Properties has committed to spending at least $1.5 million on renovation. When Mr. Arkell presented the proposal to the Economic Development and Finance standing committee, he said that Loretto wants to make these buildings the model for what can be accomplished in urban redevelopment.

Just west of the old Wyandotte No. 3 building is a building that is called
the "old, old EPA building" around City Hall.
The EPA was headquartered here before they moved
to their (now abandoned) new building at 5th and Minnesota.
This building had been in the Unified Government's Land Bank
for the last several years.
When the new Transit Center opened at 7th and Minnesota almost a year ago, I lamented the fact that the wonderful new streetscape (street, curb, sidewalk, etc.) only extended west about half a block and then just stopped mid-street. The remainder of the block was not scheduled for upgrade until 2016.

However, thanks to the vision and commitment of the Unified Government Board of Commissioners, that streetscape will soon extend all the way to 8th Street and it will provide a beautiful path to the two historic buildings that are being renovated.

In recognition of the significant investment being made by Loretto Properties on Minnesota Avenue, the Commission agreed to accelerate the timetable for finishing the streetscape and moved the project up one year to 2015.

The beautiful new streetscape that was built
around the Transit Center at 7th and Minnesota...
...will now extend the rest of the block all the way to 8th Street!

Because of the large plate glass windows in the storefront along the sidewalk, the new owners of the building needed to build a plywood wall to keep everyone safe while they remodel. However, they didn't want to just put up raw plywood on Minnesota Avenue, so they contacted Community Housing of Wyandotte County and asked if community organizer Steve Curtis and his Art Squad could paint a mural on the plywood construction barrier.

(You may remember that the Art Squad was profiled on KCUR last September for painting murals to help combat graffiti).

The Art Squad showed up yesterday morning and, under the direction of Steve Curtis and Jamina Bone, they have executed a gorgeous mural on the plywood construction barrier.

The mural was a collaborative work between Jamina Bone...
...and Steve Curtis
Members of the "real" Art Squad worked hard
Monday and Tuesday to create the "downtown KCK" mural ...
... while future members of the Art Squad made the grass grow.

In another very cool twist to this story, Mr. Hunt and Mr. Arkell have said that, when the construction is finished and the plywood needs to come down, they are going to separate the mural into several sections and then auction those sections to raise money for the Art Squad and for A Cup On The Hill (Facebook) (web site) (Pitch article), Jamina Bone's new not-for-profit coffee shop that will set up operation on the first floor of the renovated building right next to the street.

It may not be 100% geographically correct,
but the mural is gorgeous and highlights
many downtown landmarks.
You can see the door for construction workers
where the sun meets the green hill.

It is absolutely energizing to talk with Mr. Arkell and hear both his passion and his vision for helping remake downtown KCK into a "destination location".

Many thanks to Loretto Properties for their partnership and for their investment in our future.

Lamar Hunt, Jr. spent some time this afternoon
talking with Amy Hawley of KSHB (Channel 41)
about his vision for redevelopment in KCK.
Click here to see Amy's story online.

Have a great week!
~ Brian
- or -
Suggestion Box