The Kansas City Streetcar and a Downtown Building Boom
In Kansas City, developers are building a $300 million, 800-room hotel and convention center downtown. Nearby, an entrepreneur has invested $121 million to convert an aging 30-story office building into modern apartments. And the local YMCA is raising $37 million to renovate an abandoned theater into an 85,000-square-foot community center.
Those projects and dozens like them are occurring along Kansas City’s new two-mile-long streetcar line, which I helped open Friday. City leaders say the new development has injected more than $1 billion into the city’s economy since 2012, when voters approved a local tax to support streetcar service.
Those tangible impacts are part of a growing city on the move, where connecting residents to jobs and opportunities is an important priority for Kansas City Mayor Sly James and local leaders. I was proud to represent the Department of Transportation at the Kansas City Streetcar grand opening event to talk about our contribution to making it possible. The Department awarded Kansas City $37 million to support the new service, including a $20 million TIGER grant, and it’s gratifying that we can already see the results of this investment along the route.
It’s more than an effective revitalization tool, however. The streetcar provides a new transportation choice for residents. It connects to conventional bus, bus rapid transit and a system of bikeways. It contributes to walkability, enabling residents to hop on and hop off as they travel to work, health care appointments and other community services downtown. And it is the starter line of what may become a longer system as city leaders and residents consider their future public transportation needs.
In fact, the downtown streetcar line is part of a long-range plan to create a regional, integrated transit system to connect the Greater Kansas City area. The city will receive planning support as part of FTA’s Transit Oriented Development tech assistance initiative focused on its BRT system and is one of seven finalists for the Department's Smart City Challenge, thanks in part to its work to wire the city, including city-owned kiosks that put the internet at everyone’s finger tips.
On the inaugural ride, we passed the reinvigorated arts district; the historic and thriving City Market, an outdoor plaza featuring diverse food vendors; and the new Power and Light district, a popular spot for dining and entertainment. Being able to hop on and off of at any of 16 stops along the streetcar corridor solidifies the connections between those places.
In Kansas City, the line is expected to serve more than 65,000 employees and 4,600 residents, as well as 10 million annual visitors. We’re glad to be a partner.