Steve Bell

News Reporter

Afternoon reporter Steve Bell brings more than 40 years of news experience to the KCUR newsroom. Fifteen of those years he served as a news or program director. His first newscast was at KANU in 1958. He has hosted news and talk programs on five Kansas city AM-FM stations and two commercial TV stations and was for many years the the signature voice of KCPT-19. Since joining KCUR in 2001, Steve has won two  first place awards from Public Radio News Directors International -- for best newscast and best feature reporting.  He has also received a number of awards from the Missouri Broadcasters Association and the Kansas City Society of Professional Journalists.  Steve  has a Ph.D. in psychology and dabbles in guitar and banjo playing.

Ways to Connect

A traffic engineer fine-tunes the InSync system from a remote computer.
Rhythm Engineering/InSync

A new $700,000 computerized traffic system installed by a private company to give Kansas City streetcar riders a better experience is reducing travel times for all vehicles in the downtown streetcar zone, according to the company.  

Jesse Manning of Rhythm Engineering, a Lenexa, Kansas, firm, told a City Council committee last week that the smart traffic system has reduced travel times between the River Market and Union Station by 31 percent northbound and 23 percent southbound during morning peak traffic hours.

Clay Chastain
Video frame courtesy of TV-9

It took just 1,709 valid signatures to qualify for a public vote. And Clay Chastain turned in 47 more than that.

But a place for his latest light rail plan is not assured a place on the ballot yet.

Chastain, who lives in Virginia most of the time, expects resistance from the Kansas City Council to his $2 billion plan.

Stinging from the slap of having a previous proposal blocked from the ballot because city attorneys found court support for their contention that the measure as put forth was illegal, the activist has tried to ward off another refusal.

Proposed apartment complex at 17th and Madison
Rendering courtesy of EPC Real Estate

Concerned neighbors, many of them senior citizens, showed up at Kansas City City Hall last week to object to a proposed apartment project at 17th and Madison on the city's Westside. But few had a chance to testify.

According to former city councilman Robert Hernandez and other community leaders, many were retired and low-income persons who worried that the upscale apartments would drive up their property taxes and force them out of their homes.

Vision of rebuild Linwood Shopping Center
Rendering by Builders by Design, LLC

The Prospect corridor in Midtown Kansas City has been without a full-service grocery store for a little over 10 years.

That is how long it has been since owners threw in the towel on the store at the old Linwood Shopping Center.

The area could have a real grocery store back soon – probably a SunFresh store. But, city staff estimates it will cost taxpayers up to a half-million dollars a year to underwrite the project.

Councilman Jermaine Reed, whose district the shopping center would serve, called support for the project a council responsibility.

Proposed apartment complex at 17th and Madison
Rendering courtesy of EPC Real Estate

An apartment project proposed for 17th and Madison drew continued opposition this week despite concessions by developers. 

The  Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee held a hearing Wednesday on a scaled-back version of the EPC Real Estate proposal in which the developer reduced the height of the apartment building, cut back the number of apartments from 60 to 48 and reduced the amount of retail space included in the project.

Neighborhood groups urged the committee to reject the project, citing several reasons. 

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

A four hour hearing Wednesday left a Kansas City Council committee undecided on the fate of a $27.6 million plan for improvements to the 18th and Vine Jazz District. 

The request for city participation had virtually quadrupled from the $7 million version first proposed.

The plan had grown in its 6-month life to include historic preservation, infrastructure improvements, a fountain, outdoor amphitheater, apartments, retail and a connecting corridor to the Crossroads Arts District.

The Platte City Corthouse
plattecitymo.com

Platte County Treasurer Rob Willard fell for an e-mail scam Friday, and it cost the county more than $48,000.

Willard received an e-mail, purportedly from Presiding Commissioner Ron Scheiber, requesting an immediate wire transfer of $48,200 to a Florida bank to pay for tax consulting services. 

Scheiber was on vacation and not responding to text messages and it was late in the day – nearing closing time for the Florida bank.

Willard said the e-mail looked legitimate and seemed urgent, so he complied ... all before Scheiber checked his messages

Kansas City Fire Department

The omnipresence of cell phones makes it easier and often quicker for people to report emergency situations.  But the cellular devices are a significant factor in ambulance response times that miss Kansas City's response time goal.

Actually, the city's ambulance service, operated by the Fire Department, performed well in April, according to a report submitted to the City Council Neighborhoods and Public Safety Committee.

Of nearly 6,500 calls for emergency service, 65 turned out to be classified as life-threatening emergencies.

HDR, City of Kansas City

Northland council members were most skeptical, but all members of a joint City Council Committee seemed to agree  Thursday that a proposed city-wide transit-oriented development plan still needs more work.

First District Councilwoman Heather Hall seemed to sum up the concerns of her colleagues.

“First of all, it's too big to be effectively run by all the different components that we need to do; and it doesn't meet the needs of  every part of the city, but in fact the whole city will be responsible for all of it,” Hall told the group.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR

The Kansas City Fire Department released its report of an internal investigation of the events leading up to the deaths of firefighters John Mesh and Larry Leggio in a blaze on Independence Avenue in October. Questions had been raised why two firefighters were still deployed in an alleyway 11 minutes after it had been designated a collapse zone.

americanjazzmuseum.com

Kansas City jazz fans take note: The executive director of the American Jazz Museum says we will have a world-class jazz festival and it will debut in just one year.

A City Council committee this week approved a renewal for the museum to continue to manage the 18th and Vine project. Jazz Museum Executive Director Cheptoo Kositani-Buckner used the occasion to tout the accomplishments of the district she has managed since January.

KC Police

An audit released this week concludes that with tight budgets and unfilled officer positions, the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department should re-evaluate its policies on allowing officers to take police vehicles home with them in their off-duty hours.

The police do not agree.

The audit found that 45 percent of the police fleet is assigned for take-home with no tracking of mileage or how they are used after duty hours.

A boutique hotel is planned for the Pendgergast Building and old Pabst brewery.
aprium.com

The full Kansas City Council on Thursday gave unanimous approval to tax abatement and other incentives for planned hotels in the heart of
downtown in the Crossroads Arts District.

Both involve the renovation of historic buildings: the old Federal Reserve building at 9th and Grand and the Pendergast Building and former Pabst brewery in the Crossroads.

Creative Commons

The building is historic, and the story familiar. 

Developers seeking to renovate the old Federal Reserve Building at 925 Grand told the 95-year-old tower's tale of woe to the City Council Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday.

They described and showed photos of disrepair and water damage in a structure now eight years vacant, lacking a fire sprinkler system and with only one working elevator for which repair parts must be custom-fabricated.

visitkc.com

A Kansas City Council Committee has approved a contract extension of up to five years for California-based company Ticketmaster to continue to ticketing for events at city-owned convention and entertainment facilities.

McGaskey, executive director for the venues, says one factor that set Ticketmaster apart from two competing bidders was a $45,000 annual Ticketmaster allowance for advertising to help promote events. He said the assistance is a “nice incentive” to offer some event sponsors. 

About 180 small businesses in Kansas City, Missouri, would be eligible for SBA “micro-loans” averaging $10,000 each under a plan approved by a city council committee on Wednesday. 

Economic Development chair Scott Taylor says the first phase of the program has already loaned out $2.3 million.

Taylor says almost 53 percent of the loans have been to businesses east of Troost and the repayment rate has been a high 95 percent.

Courtesy of City of Kansas City, Missouri

“This was a relatively pleasant budget process,” said Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James of the months leading up to Thursday's City Council approval of a $1.5 billion budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year.  Then his council colleagues laughed as he added, “We actually had money.  That always makes it a little easier.”

The new spending plan includes funding for 2 percent raises for city employees who have been hit by wage freezes in several recent years.

City Hall
City of Kansas City

The Kansas City, Missouri City Council approved  a $1.5 billion budget on Thursday that kicks off a $10 million two-year plan to tear down about 800 abandoned houses, increases spending on basic services by 5 percent and allows for 2 percent raises for city employees.

The same day the council approved a union contract granting firefighters 2.6 percent raises. The agreement reduces a potential wage freeze in case emergency medical services revenue does not increase by 6 percent from two years to one.

KCCG, Channel 2

A development incentive plan Mayor Sly James calls the Shared Success Fund faced its first criticism in a city council committee Wednesday.

The mayor wants to tap into the developer-incentive system to set aside money the city could use to help support other developments in areas with low incomes, high unemployment and a lack of new construction. 

James says the vast majority of the area that would qualify is the east-central area of Kansas City south of the river.

Firefighters Local 42

A committee of the Kansas City, Missouri City Council approved  a contract with Firefighters Local 42 on Wednesday.

But the union says it is not the deal they agreed to.

The rift prompted hot words from the union president and an icy atmosphere at the committee table.

Upon hearing the proposal City Manager Troy Schulte asked the finance committee to endorse, Local 32 president Bill Galvin's first comment was, “This right here is the first I've seen of this ordinance.  To me this is bargaining in bad faith.”

KC Aviation Department

Airport consultants focused on two possible layouts for a new terminal Tuesday as they explained to the Kansas City Council Airport Committee why those designs would meet airline needs. 

One was configured in an “H” shape, while the other could be described as shaped like a shallow letter “V.”

Neither represented a formal final design, but Ken Brown of the terminal design firm PGAL used them to explain how their footprints would be compatible with airplane traffic and security and baggage systems.

Excavation safety group - dlickr.com

An ordinance advanced by a Kansas City Council committee on Wednesday would require contractors to pluck the unsightly markers when their work is done.

Utility line excavation markers are required by law,  but the fluttering swatches of yellow and orange that  line lawns along roadways often remain long after they have served their purpose. 

Their wire stems may pose mowing hazards for several years to come.

Public Works Director Sherri McIntyre said the ordinance will require the removal of the flags before the contractor can close the permit on the job site.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

After more than a year of uncertainty, recommendations on the future of Kemper Arena are just weeks away. 

Kansas City Council Economic Development Chair Scott Taylor said on Wednesday that a special committee is wrapping up its work and he expects to submit recommendations to the full council sometime in March. 

Taylor said there will also be more public hearings before a final decision is made, including one to be held at Kemper Arena.

Landrum & Brown / Kansas City Aviation Department

An increase of $3 a day at some airport parking facilities and a modest but unspecified ticket price increase would be the only effect of a new billion-dollar terminal on travel costs. That was the essence of a report aviation officials presented to the Kansas City Council Airport Committee on Tuesday.

Aviation officials presented a financing scenario involving revenue bonds, federal grants and airline participation. 

Their numbers were based on 3 percent inflation, 6 percent interest rates on the bonds and a passenger traffic gradual increase of 40 percent by 2045.

A group that challenged tax breaks for a $310 million downtown Kansas City convention hotel announced Tuesday that it will not challenge a judge's ruling that the city does not have to honor their petition drive to force a public vote. 

A Jackson County judge ruled in agreement with the city that though Citizens for Responsible Government collected the required number of valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot, doing so could require the city to illegally default on already-signed development agreements.

cooltagged.com

A proposal for tax incentives to bring production of films, television series episodes and major TV commercials to Kansas City cleared a City Council committee Wednesday.

The details of the plan have been in the making for several months at the Film and Media Office of the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Development chair Scott Taylor told the Finance Committee that Kansas City is losing talent and production contracts to cities that offer the incentives. A particularly frustrating case, he said was losing a movie set in Kansas City to Atlanta.

A bill being heard this week by a Missouri legislative committee promotes shared parenting – a flexible arrangement in which children spend as close to equal time as possible with each parent after separation or divorce.

The legislation proposes adding language to the state’s child custody law to emphasize that the best interest of the child is equal access to both parents – a change that would encourage judges to pay more attention to research on the best interest of children.

Rendering courtesy of Crawford Architects

Airline consultants have rejected a proposal to renovate existing KCI terminals rather than build a new one.

Consultant Lou Salomon of AvAirPros told the Kansas City Council Airport Committee Tuesday that the renovation plan lacks the flexibility needed for a forecast 40 percent passenger traffic growth by 2040 and underestimates the costs.

“The major renovations are just less efficient,” Salomon said. “And they cost more – and not just from the initial capital costs perspective.  They cost more to operate and maintain and to finance.”

The Royale Inn at 6th and Paseo
Photo from Google Earth Street Views

Residents of the Northeast area of Kansas City have been trying for more than 15 years to get rid of the Royale Inn Motel. 

The now vacant motel was for years an eyesore, a trysting place, transient motel and the scene of numerous disturbances, drug deals and at least one murder.

“The Royale has been a thorn in the side of the Northeast,” is the way Northeast News Publisher Michael Bushnell put it when addressing a City Council committee on Thursday.

file photo

The “East Brookside” redevelopment plan is rolling forward.

The Kansas City Council Planning Zoning and Economic Development Corporation approved basic redevelopment plans for the area along 63rd Street from Oak to Troost Avenue on Wednesday. 

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