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

Iknowthegoods / Wikimedia Commons

After months of debate, Thursday's Kansas City Council vote was unanimous, but the $7 million commitment had reverted to a level similar to the first proposal made seven months ago.

In the meantime, estimates for improving the historic Jazz District had ballooned to as much as $12 million to start. The remainder of the $27.6 million total cost is expected to be divided into two more phases over a three-year period.

Supporters called it a most-expensive-case scenario, predicting that private investment would end up paying a large portion of the expense.

Developers and neighborhood opponents continue to negotiate on a planned apartment complex at 17th and Madison.
Rendering courtesy of EPC Real Estate

The Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee of the Kansas City Council will postpone a vote on a controversial West Side apartment complex until Aug. 10.

The measure was sent back to committee for a second hearing June 22 after neighborhood groups expressed concerns that the upscale housing would raise property taxes in the area.

Developer John Coon at the time said the worries were unfounded and offered to meet with neighborhood groups to negotiate a compromise of some sort.

A new plan for 18th and Vine Jazz District upgrades trims phase one commitment to $7 million.
Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

City Council discussions have produced a new, scaled back proposal for improvements to the Historic 18th and Vine Jazz District.

Councilman Jermaine Reed tried to bring a $27.6 million, three-phase plan to a vote in last Thursday's legislative session, but called for a postponed vote when support failed to materialize.

The main concerns other council members expressed had to do with the total financial commitment on the part of the city and making that commitment before exploring the possibility of reducing the burden through private investment.

Kicking styles in FootGolf vary with some players kicking straight-on and others using a soccer-style kick.
Steve Bell / KCUR 89.3

In July, Tomahawk Hills became the third area golf course offering FootGolf, a variation of golf played with soccer balls.

Like regular golf, FootGolf is played on a nine or 18-hole course. At Tomahawk Hills, the new nine-hole green wends its way around and between golf course fairways.

Heart of America golf pro Nate Richardson at Swope Park says fairways are shared at that course, which opened in 2014.

Within the year, the soccer-golf hybrid was drawing almost as many players as regular golf.

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

With three last-minute alternatives on the table and no apparent consensus, Kansas City Councilman Jermaine Reed backed down Thursday on his plan to force a vote on Jazz District improvements.

Reed had already softened his original stance that the council should fully commit to $27.6 million in three-phase funding for the 18th and Vine area.

Sunflower Development

Beacon Hill soon could be joining Kansas City's downtown hotel boom.

On Wednesday, the City Council Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee endorsed plans for a $13 million, 90-room hotel project at 24th and Troost in the Beacon Hill redevelopment area. It would operate as a Best Western Plus.

The master plan for the area, created when Emanuel Cleaver was mayor, focuses on affordable housing, principally town homes. But Leonard Graham of design firm Taliaferro and Browne says the hotel is consistent with the original goal. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

The Johnson County Election Office reports it is in need of more than 2,000 election workers for the coming elections in August and November.

Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker says besides civic pride, the job pays a stipend of at least $135 for each election worked.

“A person can feel like, “I'm doing my civic duty, getting enough money to go out to dinner a couple of times... and I'm giving back to my country,” Metsker says.

The election commissioner emphasized that a 4-hour training class is provided and skills are not hard to master.

Courtesy U2D, Inc.

A device that could improve homeland security, help the military and protect workers in nuclear facilities and hospitals has won a coveted award for a team led by a UMKC professor.

Physics professor Anthony Caruso led a team of 20 student researchers plus researchers at MU-Columbia and Kansas State University and two private companies in taking the product from concept through prototype to production.

KC Aviation Department

For two years, KCI Airport officials have leaned heavily on promoting the idea of a new single-terminal concept when reporting aviation details to City Council committees.

Not this time.

New Aviation Director Patrick Klein reported to the Airport Committee on Wednesday and focused entirely on ideas for improving the existing terminals.

In May, Mayor Sly James said the city was putting discussions on a new single-terminal for KCI on hold after research suggested an overwhelming lack of public support.

Developers and neighborhood opponents continue to negotiate on a planned apartment complex at 17th and Madison.
Rendering courtesy of EPC Real Estate

Neighborhood opponents of a proposed apartment development in Kansas City's Westside outnumbered its supporters 3 to 1 at a second Kansas City Council committee hearing on the project Wednesday.

The development would replace a warehouse at 17th and Madison.

A second public hearing was prompted by the number of objections to the committee's original decision to approve the zoning and design at an earlier hearing with a delayed start. Many neighbors said they had to leave that meeting because it was so late; before the matter of the apartment project came up.

KIDS COUNT/aecf.org

Both Kansas and Missouri stayed in the middle tier of states in the new KIDS COUNT survey released Tuesday, but Kansas had the third-largest drop in child well-being ratings in the nation.

Overall, Kansas fell from 15th place last year to 19th.  Missouri slipped from 26th to 28th. 

Health scores improved for Missouri kids but slid 11 places for Kansas. 

Missouri came up three positions on economic well-being, Kansas held steady at No. 9.

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.

Developers and neighborhood opponents continue to negotiate on a planned 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.

Developers and neighborhood opponents continue to negotiate on a planned 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.

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