Development, even redevelopment, isn’t unusual in the Kansas City area, but concrete examples of successfully working across state or county borders to do that are harder to come by. Yet that’s what happening at the district surrounding 47th and Mission.
For years, Oklahoma Joe’s was easily the most prominent landmark on that strip. Now, as the renamed Joe’s Kansas City, it’s getting competition as other restaurants build on the barbecue joint's national and international appeal. New eateries and business have moved in and started to revive the area that sits at the border of three cities and two counties.
Success didn’t come overnight
The cities of Kansas City, Kansas, Roeland Park, and Westwood created the 47th and Mission Road Committee way back in 1999. Heidi Holliday leads the Rosedale Development Association and sits on the committee. She says while having three cities at the table can be challenging, it’s paying off.
“Municipalities can be in their own bubbles,” says Holliday. “Urban planning works best when people are talking to each other.”
The committee came up with a plan for 47th Street, which also marks the Wyandotte-Johnson County line, more than a decade ago. It calls for pedestrian friendly, mixed-use development. That vision didn’t start taking shape until recently as the economy began to recover after the recession.
New businesses started moving into the area, taking over empty and run down spaces. Walmart Neighborhood Market bought the site of an aging Apple Market, kept the shell of building and made it virtually unrecognizable. Then Taco Republic overhauled a former gas station with bright teal paint, rustic wood paneling and open-air seating.
Malisa Monyakula lives in Westwood, and she opened the second location of Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop on 47th Street.
She looked in Mission and Prairie Village, but she says the former auto repair shop is the perfect site for her restaurant.
“It’s a cool eclectic mix of different demographics and households,” says Monyakula.
While she likes being within walking distance from her house, she hit a few bumps with the 47th and Mission Committee. Her place had parking out front near the street, but she had to replace it with landscaping and move the parking to the back. She says for a small business like hers those costs can add up fast.
Though she’s quick to add other businesses moving in is good for everyone.
“The more businesses we have that are open and thriving the more people will be attracted to the area,” says Monyakula.
A split on tax incentives
Trucks pull into and out of the parking lot of the area’s most recent project — the renovation of a tired-looking strip mall. Lane4 Property Group Inc. bought the shopping center late last year. Lane4 is pumping $1.5 million into the shopping center to replace the leaking roof and update the façade.
Some tenants have already left the shopping center but others, like liquor store-owner Darrel Avers, plan to stay. He bought Fairway Liquor a year ago before the ownership change. Avers says it needed the updates.
“Otherwise it would have been in a rundown state.”
Lane 4’s Hunter Harris says developers don’t need to go to the outskirts of the suburbs to find customers.
“All of those customers for those merchants that we lease space to are already there,” says Harris. “And we find more often than not, they are clamoring for the opportunity to spend time at these centers if it’s an appealing place to shop.”
One thing that’s made the deal work for Lane 4’s bottom line is tax incentives. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County designated the site a "Community Improvement District," tacking on about an extra penny for every dollar spent shopping there. That money goes to the developer to help pay for the project. The UG is also offering property tax rebates on improvements at the shopping center under the Neighborhood Revitalization Act.
That’s something the cities of Westwood and Roeland Park don’t do, although they’re considering it.
Is this gentrification?
New shops and new restaurants are attracting people with money to spend to the area. But some residents on the Kansas City, Kansas side of the county line worry what that means for people on limited incomes, who are more likely to shop at Maj-R Thrift or Dollar General than spend money on a night out.
Maj-R Thrift isn’t going anywhere yet — it has a long-term lease in the shopping center.
Harris says it’s an investment in the neighborhood. He uses himself as a Fairway resident as example, saying more people from nearby suburbs will spend money and generate tax dollars.
“This center is one of the closest to me for good restaurants and other shopping, so our tax dollars will go into Kansas City, Kansas,” says Harris.
For his part, Avers, who’s changing his store's name to Northwood Liquor, says as the area grows he’s already seeing changes in what people buy. Less Budweiser and Coors — more wine and bourbon.
This look at the line between Wyandotte and Johnson Counties is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.
We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them. Become a source for KCUR as we investigate Johnson and Wyandotte Counties.