With plenty of things to do in Kansas City, our quick visit to the Kansas City Power & Light District occurred during a weekday morning. The Kansas City Power & Light District is a downtown Kansas City entertainment center with restaurants, bars and music venues. While it uses the Kansas City skyline as its logo, the Kansas City Power & Light District is actually a nine-block area bounded by municipal concert centers, the Convention Center, and several hotels, with I-670 at its south, away from what we perceived as the city center proper.
We took Truman Road (which parallels I-670) out of Independence where we were staying and headed west on a sunny Tuesday morning. The Kansas City skyline has a mirage-like quality, rising like Oz out of the surrounding urban/suburban sprawl. While downtown Kansas City isn’t particularly large, we were still disoriented trying to find the district itself, which is fairly nondescript. We were disoriented again emerging from our parking ramp. For pedestrians, the Kansas City Power & Light District could have more of an open and welcoming vibe at street level.
We wandered about for a bit, trying to get acclimated by using visual cues from the Kansas City skyline, but gave up and stepped into Cosentino’s Market. Wow, this is where everyone was! Bustling with activity, family-owned Cosentino’s caters to the foodie, whether it’s a quick stop for lunch on site or to-go, or more serious grocery shopping. With its own entrance from a Kansas City Power & Light District parking ramp (validating your ticket = park for free), Cosentino’s vibe is like Dean & DeLuca on steroids, classy and urban. It made me want to go condo shopping in downtown Kansas City just so Cosentino’s could be my grocery store!
Looking at all the food in Cosentino’s (and the impressive wine and liquor store, too) made us hungry and thirsty. We headed outside again and spotted The Flying Saucer, ambling in for an early lunch. The bartender’s shirt was emblazoned with simple text: “You’re killing my buzz.” I ordered a shirt along with my food. The menu has a German overlay, with spaetzle and pretzel-based offerings. But the real attraction here is the beer menu. With over 200 choices, you can achieve “beerknurd” status by joining their U.F.O. club (which Pete did). Fun marketing stuff for a restaurant chain outpost in downtown Kansas City (its other locations are in Texas and the middle South). We’d visit again.
The Kansas City Power & Light District is adjacent to the public-financed Sprint Arena. Both projects were intended to re-establish a level of vibrancy to downtown Kansas City. When H&R Block added its new 17 story tower to the Kansas City skyline in the new neighborhood, there were high hopes the formula was working. As well, the Kansas City Power and Light District was supposed to pay for itself by generating debt service on bonds the city issued to finance its development. Even with an 85% occupancy rate, though, reality is falling short of projections. There appears to be a net revenue exchange of regional entertainment dollars, rather than increase in overall spending – in short, the District didn’t attract as many out of town visitors as was hoped. Kansas City politicos point to the lack of a downtown sports team intended for Sprint Arena as a contributing factor.
With these results, downtown Kansas City shares similarities with many revitalization efforts in other cities. While the District’s logo uses the Kansas City skyline as a design element, which would seemingly signify integration with downtown Kansas City as a whole, as visitors we felt a disconnect. Our thoughts? “You’re killing my buzz.” Better public transportation and residential options downtown may help things at the Kansas City Power & Light District. But a convergence with market timing (encompassing related factors such as housing availability, commercial and residential financing), proper scaling of urban design, and a basic understanding of the incremental relationships these external factors have with the ability of a business to deliver product and service would have yielded more.