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.

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The idea of a unified metro-wide emergency dispatch system for area law enforcement got a first hearing in a Kansas City council committee Wednesday. 

Assistant City Manager Mike Schumacher told the public safety committee that with existing separate dispatch systems, a crime can occur within a block of a police car, but those officers don't get a call because the need is in a different municipality. And the dispatcher for that municipality doesn't even know the officers are close.

Some digital signs will be allowed in Kansas City, Missouri residential neighborhoods under an ordinance passed Thursday. 

The battle went on for nearly two years, according to ordinance sponsor Councilman Ed Ford. Churches and schools said the new signs were modern, convenient and efficient. Homeowners worried that they could be glaring, garish and constantly changing.

Ford said the compromise ordinance allows the signs at institutions with 15-acre sights (10 acres on busy thoroughfares).

A proposal to require Kansas City, Missouri building owners to make energy efficiency figures on the buildings public met mixed reactions at a city council committee hearing Wednesday. 

The plan would require owners to compile energy usage figures and submit them to the city or face a fine for not doing so. Proponents representing environmental groups, civic groups and some building owners said the ordinance would further enhance Kansas City's image as a sustainability-focused community while helping to improve air quality, reduce energy use and make lower rents possible for many low or fixed income apartment dwellers.

Americasroof / Wikimedia -- CC

A Kansas City council committee took the next step in an attempt to sell Kemper Arena Wednesday. 

The plans, zoning and economic development approved a basic schedule for sending out requests for proposals. The invitations would go out next month, with 90 days for responses to come in. 

Chair Ed Ford said to try to get as many offers as possible the city shouldn't put many restrictions on intended use for the old arena.

"We may get someone who wants to put in a beer garden or a mega-church or move it to the riverfront and make an aquarium," he quipped.

Kansas City and Uber have come to terms on regulations for the ride-hiring network and its drivers. 

The compromise ordinance was unveiled at the council business session Thursday and passed shortly after 5 p.m. It replaces one passed two weeks ago that prompted Uber to say it was being forced out of Kansas City.

The city agreed to drop the permit fee for individual drivers for companies willing to pay a $45,000 annual blanket fee. 

Rendering courtesy of Cordish Co.

A second Power and Light District apartment tower at Truman Road and Grand has won big dollar incentives from the Kansas City council.

The council Thursday approved underwriting construction of the 24-story Two Light luxury apartment tower and its parking garage for up to $17 million and endorsed what amounts to 50 percent property tax abatement for 25 years.

Councilman Jim Glover told colleagues to think of it not as a subsidy, but an investment.

In its business session  Thursday the Kansas City Council heard a report on the future of the now mostly vacant Bannister Federal Complex in south Kansas City. Kevin Breslin of Centerpoint Properties, which is assisting the GSA in repurposing the facility said the existing Bannister buildings, with the exception of the facilities occupied by the U.S. Marines,  will be torn down.

Breslin said the old structures have outlived their usefulness and starting fresh will allow for a more aggressive environmental clean-up while allowing private businesses to re-create the complex in a manner that suits its "next future."

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Kansas City, Missouri's newly approved budget for the coming year still calls for fewer people and no raises.  But last minute revisions eased some of the cuts in the original version.

The $1.5 billion spending plan the city council approved still pumps $80 million into long neglected pension funds and honors a fire department call for $10.5 million more to cover overtime and operating expenses. 

But improved collections for ambulance services inspired number crunchers to restore a portion of cuts planned in three notable areas.

flickr user j.s. clark / Creative Commons

The Kansas City city council votes Thursday on putting Kemper Arena on the market nationally as “surplus property.” 

Councilman Ed Ford, who chairs the economic development committee says assuming full-council approval, the city will send out a request for proposals on Kemper in early April, hoping to get at least one feasible offer. 

"If there is none, then the city is going to have to determine whether it makes economic sense to to tear it down or to mothball it, because status quo it's not working.  It's costing the city too much money to keep it open for too few events,” said Ford.

Wikimedia Commons - CC

Two items that have been on the back burner for some time for the Kansas City City Council will move to the foreground next week. 

Ordinances were introduced Thursday addressing the future of Kemper Arena and regulation of ride-share services like Lyft and Uber. 

A committee will start refining an ordinance declaring Kemper Arena “surplus property” and starting a nationwide request for proposals on what to do with it. 

Zenoir/Creative Commons

A request from the hospitality industry to put an end to individual liquor server licenses in Kansas City, Missouri, gets thumbs down from a city council committee. 

Representatives of the Restaurant Association have argued that requiring liquor cards is burdensome for workers and inconsistent with policies of other municipalities in the metro. But the Public Safety Committee voted 3-2 for only minor changes. 

"You need a liquor card for the job” is something job applicants often hear in Kansas City, Mo. But City Councilman Scott Wagner has introduced an ordinance to change that.

Kansas City requires the personal licenses for people who sell alcohol in the name of public safety – protecting credit cards and personal ID information from someone who has a serious felony record. 

But at a committee hearing on Wednesday, Laura McDonald of the More-Square Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity was one of several witnesses who questioned that logic.

Kansas City, Missouri officials have made their first public comments on the proposed city budget for next year, including the proposed one-year wage freeze.

With a 3.5 percent spending increase in the plan and millions more for the fire department, some are asking why there won't be employee raises. 

City Manager Troy Schulte said it comes down to dollars and cents: raises vs. jobs.

Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte have unveiled their proposal for next year's city budget. 

The mayor and city manager would increase city spending 3.5 percent next year, with the largest area of increase  for the fire department. 

That roughly $10 million is primarily to cover costs of operating the city ambulance system. City communications director Chris Hernandez said more than $700,000 of that is for installing new equipment on fire trucks to create a larger force for medical emergency response. 

The Kansas City, Mo., city council votes Thursday afternoon on on ordinance that would keep a reserve fund for streetcar system expansion planning. 

It is part of plans for spending more than $8 million left over from the $10 million it borrowed to jump-start a streetcar system expansion that voters rejected.

The ordinance would devote most of the unspent bond money to already planned projects including a community center tornado shelter and Bartle Hall roof repairs.

Amayleben / Wikimedia-CC

The matter of digital signs outside of schools and churches in Kansas City, Mo., remains stalled in a Kansas City council committee after a second week of public hearings.

A lot of schools and churches like the idea of digital signs – capable of multiple messages that are easy to change without braving frigid or blistering weather. Some also say they are more effective at communicating with parents and parishioners than the old style letter-board signs.

Kansas City Police Helicopters
City of Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas City, Missouri police helicopters will be able to transmit bird's eye video like media news and traffic copters.

The city has received a nearly $66,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to pay three-fourths of the cost of video capabilities many citizens may have thought the police already had.

Liaison officer Eric Winebrenner explained the downlink system to city council members.

The Kansas City Council has come up with a compromise they hope will satisfy those who wanted the new East Patrol police station named after Leon Jordan, a former police officer and the founder of Freedom, Inc, while also satisfying those who opposed it.

Councilman Jermaine Reed explained the idea: name the campus, not the police station.

A parade of black community leaders and former council members spoke in favor of the naming to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  All cited the historic contributions made by Jordan to the city and to law enforcement.

Update, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11:

The Kansas City, Mo., City Council voted Thursday to extend city pension benefits currently offered to couples in conventional marriages to legally-married same-sex couples.

“So this is just one more example of our commitment to being inclusive to all of our citizens in Kansas City,” Councilwoman Jan Marcason said before the unanimous vote.

The original post continues below.

The fate of Kansas City's Kemper Arena is perhaps in more doubt than ever after the American Royal Association board of directors withdrew its proposal that the arena be torn down and replaced with a smaller one.

Kansas City, Mo., city council committee chair Ed Ford received a letter from the Royal's attorneys Monday indicating that the association was scrapping its proposal and had no desire to engage in future discussions with the city.  The reason cited was "negative dialogue ... detrimental to the American Royal and its core mission."

Americasroof / Wikimedia Commons

A special committee of the Kansas City Council held its first hearing Thursday on the American Royal proposal to replace Kemper Arena. The idea of demolishing the old arena and building a smaller one met some determined opposition.

Representatives of the American Royal and Sporting Kansas City said their plan is a boost for a venerable institution, youth sports and the West Bottoms. 

Flickr, Creative Commons

A big surprise in a city council committee meeting Wednesday afternoon:

After weeks of discussions about the future of Kemper Arena and the American Royal Complex, Foutch Brothers Developers sent a statement to the council that, due to circumstances beyond its control, it no longer was able to pursue a plan to convert the aging arena into a youth sports facility.

But it's not an automatic win for an American Royal plan to tear down Kemper and replace it with a new, smaller arena, according to committee chair Ed Ford.

There have been no ads promoting the taxes and no campaign opposing them, but there are two questions going before Kansas City, Missouri, voters on Nov. 4.

So why are they on the ballot? Questions 1 and 2 are the legacy of a transit activist and a 3-year court battle. The 1/4-cent and 1/8-cent sales taxes are the ruins of Clay Chastain's successful 2011 light rail initiative petition drive.

Kansas City is offering some assurances to a developer who filed a complaint with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Eagle Point Development is charging the city with attempting to force low-income African-American tenants out of their apartments on East Armour Boulevard.

The City Council has made no public comment.  But the full body and the Housing Committee spent several hours in closed session this week, presumably discussing the legal issues. 

CC: SA2.5

A consultant hired by the Kansas City council to analyze whether a plan to convert Kemper arena into a youth sports and fitness complex has told a council committee the plan has great opportunities for exciting success, but Dale Neuberger of TSE Consulting also added a caveat.

"The plan is sound – albeit one that you take a ... a big gulp when you think about the monthly revenue and the monthly members. It's a lot of people and it's a lot of money. And that's somewhat the reality of doing business in this field,” Newberger said.

bizjournals.com

The city council found out Friday that they were wrong in their assumption that Cerner Founder Neal Patterson's offer to pay the costs of razing Kemper Arena to make way for a smaller facility would knock down their asking price. 

Attorney Chase Simmons told the council that despite Patterson's remark to a civic group, the American Royal Board has not reduced the amount of incentives it is asking for to $25 million.

Two Kansas City council committees are facing difficulties coming up with hard numbers as they delve into the mayor's request for a more consistent process in determining how large incentives for property developers.

Some school and library districts and many taxpayers complain that the city gives up tax revenues that could be put to good use. Some contend that for-profit businesses should pay their own way, without any tax abatement.

A Kansas City council committee began debate this week on Mayor Sly James's proposal to reduce tax abatement for developers. The ordinance he proposed would reduce the maximum for developers from 100 percent to 50 percent.

Concerns were immediately raised by some business and economic development leaders and several council members that cutting back on tax breaks would cast a pall over development, and businesses would build in competing communities.

The Kansas City, Missouri City Council modified the city's ban on open carry of firearms Thursday to bring it into compliance with a new state law. That law was passed by the Legislature over the veto of Gov. Jay Nixon.

Presenting the changes for a final vote, Councilman John Sharp explained that to continue to prohibit open carry for most people, the city now must exempt some persons.

City of Kansas City, Missouri.

Baltimore Avenue in Kansas City has a new name ... for now.

Mayor Sly James explained the temporary blue and white street signs to his fellow council members during Thursday's business session.

As his colleagues chuckled, James declared, “There are a number of people who live on Baltimore Avenue that do not want to live on Baltimore during the playoffs and they have asked that we try to rename it – so we will be introducing a resolution temporarily renaming Baltimore Avenue to "Royals Avenue.”

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