Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Circle of Life on Central Avenue

Here are a few more photos of Central Avenue from "back in the day". Where my earlier photos were mostly from the 1940s, these are mostly from the 1970s and 1980s. Thanks to the folks of Central Area Betterment Association for compiling and sharing these pictures.

Although CABA provided hundreds of cool photos, I have chosen ones that show buildings that are no longer in existence today to give you a perspective of what it looks like in the same spot today.

Those of you who have read this blog for a while have already heard my "Circle of Life" analogy for the growth and development of a city.

In every city, there are buildings and developments that are "born" (constructed) and grow up over time. Like everything else in our world, they age over the years and eventually both private business owners and city governments are faced with decisions on how to promote a new "revolution" on the circle of life.

Do we tear down those old buildings and build something new or do we try to preserve, renovate and repurpose them?

This can be a tricky decision as we do our best to figure out which buildings and developments are "old and historical" (and should be renovated) and which are "old and worn out" (and should be replaced). There are typically passionate advocates for both sides of the discussion. These photos show buildings where the decision was made to tear down and start over. In some cases, the replacement is complete. In other cases, we're in a holding pattern... still waiting for the next revolution of the circle of life.

(Click on any photo to enlarge it for better viewing.)

The northeast corner of 7th and Central.
The old buildings were torn down and this corner
is ready for redevelopment.
Hopefully, we'll be able to welcome new businesses soon.

The southwest corner of 7th and Central.
I'd completely forgotten about the Army & Navy Surplus store!
The circle of life has started a new revolution on this corner.
Although the historic buildings are gone, it's a very busy place!
Lots of folks visit the Conoco station along with
Krispy Kreme and Burritos to Go.

The southeast corner of 7th and Central.
Never was wild about "car carcasses" sitting on this corner.
Cancun Mexican Restaurant now occupies this corner. 

Here's a property at Central Avenue and Stinson Avenue.
It had a building on it in the 1940s,
but by the 1980s it was an unsightly vacant lot.
After some hard work by many dedicated folks,
Stinson Park was created and still exists today
as a nice little green space on Central Avenue.

The central city definitely suffered when the three hospitals
(Bethany, Providence and St. Margaret's) closed.
Here's an aerial view of the Bethany campus
north of Central between 11th and 12th Streets.
Bethany was a bustling place in its time.
Here's a close up.
That's Bethany Recreation Center in the right foreground.
The old Providence building now houses Donnelly College
and St. Margaret's is now home to the City View at St. Margaret's Lofts.
However, the Bethany building was razed
and we're still looking for a new development on the site.
That's the Bethany Medical Office Building in the right background.
It was built before the hospital was demolished and is still
a vital health care resource for local residents.

Here's the Flat Iron building that used to stand
on the southwest corner of 14th and Central.
A park was created after the building was razed.
You can see the old fire station at left (now home to CHWC).
On the right you can see part of the El Torito II complex
that features a wonderful grocery store along with a
great restaurant and bakery.

Chas Ball Super Market and 19th and Central.
Although it's now gone, too, this "modern" building
replaced older structures that used to sit on the site years earlier.
Another view of the Balls Super Market.
How many of you remember the theater that used to sit
where the long brick wall is in this picture?
Here's the site today.
The old Chas Ball building was demolished about six months ago
and the circle of life continues...

Although it technically didn't sit on Central Avenue,
I couldn't resist posting this photo of the motel
that used to sit north of the truck stop at 18th and I-70.
It was once a thriving business, but fell on hard times
and was razed to make way for Prescott Plaza. 
Believe it or not, this photo is taken from about
the same perspective as the motel photo above.
Quite a difference, eh?
Here are a couple more photos of Prescott Plaza.
We'll finish the circle of life here...
This Sunfresh Market at Prescott Plaza is the new location
for the Chas Ball Super Market the used to be at 19th and Central
(where there's now a new Auto Zone store).

Until next time, have a great week!

~ Brian

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Citizen Survey Identifies Perceptions and Priorities

For the first time since 2000, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County / Kansas City, Kansas has completed a county-wide citizen survey to determine the perceptions of citizens about life in the city/county and to identify citizen priorities for focusing Unified Government effort, energy and resources.

At our strategic planning retreat in October 2013, Commissioner Angela Markley and I presented a countywide citizen survey as part of our suggested revisions to the UG's budget adoption calendar. The Mayor and the other Commissioners were unanimous in their agreement that it would be valuable for us to complete a survey, so we directed staff to "make it so".

The Unified Government contracted with ETC Institute of Olathe, Kansas to conduct the survey. ETC has a great reputation for conducting quality community surveys and they have surveyed citizens in over 300 cities across 46 states since 1998.

The survey was distributed by mail in February 2014 to a stratified random sample of households in Wyandotte County. A total of 1, 249 surveys were returned. ETC made sure that at least 150 surveys were received from each of the eight Commission districts. After tabulating the results, ETC is confident that the results of the survey represent the residents of the county both geographically and demographically.

ETC also told us that the margin of error is statistically very small and that the survey results give us a very good indication of what the citizens of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas are thinking as a group.

Summary Results
Here is a link to the PowerPoint summary report that was presented as part of our strategic planning session
I've pulled a few slides from the summary presentation of March 8 and included them here. I encourage you to click on the link above and the others listed below for a review of the entire survey and results.

The gentleman who presented the summary report to us in our strategic planning session summed up the overall results by saying, "You're doing better, but you have a ways to go".

Here's the summary slide he presented. (You can click on any of the slides below to display them larger so that you can read the small printing).

For example, under the heading of "You're doing better", here is a graph that shows overall satisfaction with services provided by the city of Kansas City Kansas. The lighter bars indicate responses gathered in the 2000 survey while the darker bars indicate the responses gathered in the 2014 survey. Regardless of the service provided, more people gave higher ratings in 2014 than in 2000.

Here are the positive ratings for overall quality of life and overall image of Kansas City, Kansas in 2014. Once again, more people responded favorably to quality-of-life and image in 2014 than in 2000.

So far so good, but here's where there is a tremendous advantage to having a company like ETC conduct our survey and compile the results. Since they conduct similar surveys in hundreds of other cities across the United States, we have the opportunity to compare ourselves to other cities of similar size.

When we do that, we understand that we still have "A ways to go".

In the two graphs below, the dark blue bars indicate the responses in the UG 2014 survey, while the red bars indicate the responses for all citizens surveyed in the Kansas City metro area and the yellow bars indicate the average responses for all cities surveyed across the United States.

We want our positive ratings to meet or exceed those of citizens in other cities, so we know we have work to do.

Lots of questions on the survey asked citizens to prioritize the areas where they think we should focus our attention and resources.

The next two graphs show the number of people who selected particular items as their first, second or third choice for us to focus on improving.

You'll see that the top three overall priorities for city services are "Quality of maintenance of city streets", "Quality of city police services", and "Quality of city code enforcement".

In terms of county services, the top three overall priorities are "Quality of motor vehicle registration", "Quality of aging services", "Quality of parks".

Detailed Results
There is much more detailed information about the survey on the Unified Government website if you'd like to go take a look.

Here are three links that will give you access to the very detailed final report along with maps and charts of responses by Commission Districts.

Where Do We Go From Here?
Our challenge now is to actually figure out how to capitalize on the strengths and improve the weaknesses identified in the survey. This will require effort and resources and a commitment from every one of us to get the job done. I believe we can do it and I look forward to the work!

Have a great week!
~ Brian

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Streets and Sidewalks and Alleys (Oh, My!)

Let's talk infrastructure. No… really.

City infrastructure (i.e., streets, curbs, sidewalks, alleys, sewers, etc.) is something that is very important to citizens, but something that is usually boring to talk about (until you blow out a tire by hitting a pothole the size of the Grand Canyon).

After one of my recent posts featuring a 1916 postcard that showed a residential street in KCK, I got an email from someone who said something along the lines of, "Hey, I think I still have the same curb in front of my house. When do I get a new one?"

Ouch... very possibly true... but ouch.

So, let's talk infrastructure.

At the Commission Strategic Planning meeting last Saturday, we got the preliminary summary of results from the recently completed countywide citizen survey.

The survey is something that I have strongly advocated for since being elected and, this year, the Commission agreed to complete the survey as a component of strategic planning and the budget process.

I'll publish lots more information about the results of the survey in upcoming posts, but today we are going to continue talking about infrastructure.

The top priority for citizens completing the survey (regardless of Commission District) was improving the condition and maintenance of city streets. This was, by far, the top choice. The survey prompt just said "city streets", but I think it's a safe bet that people who responded to the survey were also thinking about curbs, sidewalks, alleys and sewers when they responded.

The results of this survey, then, strongly reinforce what many people have communicated to me directly… We need to wrap our brains around the challenge of maintaining our infrastructure in good working order and then create a plan to git 'r done.

KCK is not alone in needing to pay attention to infrastructure. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the nation's infrastructure an overall grade of D. In its report, the ASCE emphasized that "America's critical infrastructure—principally, its roads, bridges, drinking water systems, mass transit systems, schools, and systems for delivering energy—may soon fail to meet society's needs." The ACSE estimates that $3.6 trillion needs to be invested in the nation's infrastructure by 2020.


A few years ago, the citizens of Wyandotte County approved a 3/8 cent sales tax increase, with 1/3 of that revenue designated for infrastructure improvements.

Unfortunately, the amount of money generated by that special sales tax is less than a drop in the bucket when you consider all of the infrastructure that needs attention and how expensive it is to build, repair or replace.

If it will take $3.6 trillion nationwide, I wondered what kind of money we need to invest in the infrastructure in District 2. Since I'm a nerd and couldn't think of anything better to do on a Sunday afternoon, I gathered a stack of Google maps and used a ruler to plot and measure the linear miles of street within the District boundaries. I then made some assumptions and calculations to estimate the linear miles of curbs, sidewalks and alleys in addition.

Using those figures, and the average replacement cost for each different piece of infrastructure, I calculated two things: (1) what it would cost to replace everything that's broken right now and (2) what it would cost per year if we started and "annual plan" with the goal of replacing everything that's broken in 10 years.

Here are the assumptions and calculations for streets, curbs, sidewalks and alleys. The dollar figures in red represent how much money it would take to fix things now and the dollar figures and blue represent the money it would take to fund an "annual plan". If you don't want to wade through all the different pieces of infrastructure, just skip down to the "TOTALS" heading below.

Asphalt streets
83 miles (calculated "roughly" by hand from Google maps)
Calculations don't include "boundary streets" of 18th Street or State Avenue
Grind and overlay cost = $90,000 per mile (assume 2x12' lanes with no complications)

Total replacement cost for "grind and overlay" = $7,470,000 one time now
- OR -
Assume 25 year replacement cycle for "grind and overlay" = $298,800 per year

Assume 75% of streets have curbs both sides = 125 miles of curb
Assume 50% of curbs need to be replaced = 63 miles of replacement
Replacement cost = $25,000 per 800 ft. (assume no complications)

Total replacement cost = $10,395,000 one time
- OR -
Ten year replacement project = 1,039,500 per year (for 10 years)

Assume 66% of streets have sidewalks both sides = 110 miles of sidewalks
Assume 50% of those sidewalks need to be replaced = 55 miles of replacement
Replacement cost = $20,000 per 800 ft. (assume no complications)

Total replacement cost = $7,392,000 one time
- OR -
Ten year replacement project = $739,200 per year (for 10 years)

Assume 66% of blocks (linear miles) have alleys = 55 miles of road
Assume that any linear mile of alley represents 2 linear miles of road = 28 miles of alley
Assume that all alleys need to be replaced = 28 miles of replacement
Replacement cost (roughly) = $15,000 per 800 ft. (assume no complications)

Total replacement cost = $2,772,000 one time
- OR -
Ten year replacement project = $277,200 per year (for 10 years)

= = TOTALS = =
Replace everything now (all asphalt and everything else that is "broken")
$28,029,000 one time

- OR -

Start "annual plan" (start 25 year cycle on asphalt replacement and replace everything else that is currently "broken" over a 10 year time frame)
$2,354,700 per year for 10 years

It would take an amount of money equivalent to about 1/10 of the entire UG budget to fix the broken infrastructure just in District 2!!!!! That's scary. And that's just for replacement, not for ongoing maintenance and repair!!

I haven't even considered sewers which is undoubtedly a messier calculation (pun intended), but they are probably way more expensive than anything else we've looked at here.  :-(

Frankly, it's a little disheartening to look at the size of those numbers and realize the amount of work we have ahead of us. But I believe we can confront this challenge and I believe we can succeed.

I'll post another article later this week with information on how we are already starting to chip away at our infrastructure replacement needs and how we can increase the rate of infrastructure repair.

As always, don't hesitate to let me know if you have thoughts, comments or suggestions on this or any other topic.

Have a great week!
~ Brian

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Then and Now in Postcards (Part 3)

Here's another group of old postcards from around District 2 (with just a couple "now" pictures). It really is fascinating to not only see the beauty of these postcards, but also to see what local sites became the subject of the postcards.

First stop is Kansas Avenue in Armourdale.
This picture is looking west along Kansas Avenue
from the bend in the road at 5th Street.
Here's Kansas Avenue today.
Like the other avenues we've looked at (Central & Minnesota),
the view is radically different today.
Here's the west end of Armourdale at 18th & Kansas Avenue.
Anyone who has driven on 18th Street Expressway
should remember this building.
Here's how it looks today.
18th Street Expressway is prominent in the foreground
Looks like the brown and white building was added on to
and the structures to the north (right) were all torn down.
I *think* this building was just west of the one above
(where Proctor & Gamble is now along Kansas Avenue).
If you recognize it, send me a note.
Now let's head back downtown.
This lovely building has been well maintained over the years
and still graces the northeast corner of 10th & Barnett by Northrup Park.
Today it's the Mrs. J.W. Jones Memorial Chapel.
Here's a neighborhood scene from 1919.
This view is looking east on Grandview Boulevard
from roughly the alley between 18th and 17th Streets.
The red brick house in the center of this postcard
sits on the northeast corner of 17th and Grandview.
I'm assuming this postcard came out a few years after the one above.
It shows the view looking north along the 300 block of North 17th Street.

Let's wrap up today by heading back downtown for three views of the old Carnegie Library on Minnesota Avenue.

This postcard had to come from the very early 1900's.
I think it shows a view looking northwest from the
"side and back" of the library.
This postcard was circulated in 1907.
I think it shows a view looking southwest from the
"side and front" of the library.
Notice that a more elaborate stone staircase has been added
at the side door (left of photo)
What a cool building!
This postcard was dated 1913 and shows an impressive plaza
in front of the library

That's all for today. I still have one more batch of postcards to go and will try to get to it soon.

Have a great week!

~ Brian

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Northrup Park Community Garden Ready and Waiting

Testing ... testing ... is this thing on? ...

Wow - it's been so long since I've posted here, I hope I remember how to make things work.  :-)

Sorry for the absence. I've been hibernating and trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid the cold for the last few weeks, but I'm waking up and getting ready for a great spring.

Speaking of spring, I want to let everyone know about a gigantic new community garden that will be opening this spring in Northrup Park (10th and Grandview Boulevard).

Everything's under a foot of snow at the moment, but the fence was installed and the plots were tilled before the winter set in, so it will be ready to go come spring!

Northrup Park is on the east side of 10th Street
between Barnett on the north and Sandusky on the south.
Yep, there's a huge garden inside that fence and under all the snow!!
This picture doesn't begin to do justice to how big it is.
Click this picture to view a larger version.

The garden was installed thanks to the efforts of Kansas City Community Gardens (Facebook) with local support from the Latino Health for All Coalition (Facebook).

The new garden will have two options for gardeners:

  • Raised Garden Beds - 24 total (4' x 12' each) filled with compost-rich soil.
  • Ground Plot Gardens - 25 total (20' x 25' each) tilled and ready to plant.

Both the raised beds and ground plots will be rented annually. Rental fees are based on income level and range from $8.00 - $25.00 per year. Gardeners will have access to water, and the garden is equipped with shelter and seating as well as access to a portable toilet.

Kansas City Community Gardens can help with low-cost seeds, vegetable plants and fertilizer.

If you want to join this community garden, call Earlene at 816-931-3877 for more information or to reserve your plot. (For Spanish, call Monica Mendez at 913-439-9349).

To close, here are a few photos to help us imagine what it could be like this summer.  :-)

~ Brian

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