KC holding mail-in vote on downtown streetcars

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — While Missouri's voters head to the polls for Tuesday's nationwide election, several hundred people in downtown Kansas City also have the chance to vote in an unusual mail-in election regarding streetcars.

The Jackson County court administrator's office has mailed out ballots to the nearly 700 registered voters in downtown Kansas City who qualified to vote on a $100 million downtown streetcar system. The 697 voters must mail their ballots to the court by Dec. 11.

Voters approved the streetcar district boundaries in another mail-in election this summer and now will decide whether to approve specific tax increases within those boundaries to help pay for the streetcars.

The Kansas City Star reports (http://bit.ly/UhsTBR) that officials have said 739 applications for ballots were submitted and 697 of those were confirmed and approved. The downtown precincts within the streetcar district boundary have about 3,600 active voters registered, which means about 20 percent are on course to vote.

The plan calls for four, 120-passenger streetcars along a 2-mile downtown route from the River Market area to Union Station. The hours of operation would be from about 6 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Plans call for the route to possibly start in 2015.

Supporters, including Mayor Sly James, say the streetcar system would be a magnet for housing and retail development.

"The strongest argument is that we need to be building a city for the next 25 years," James said recently. "We're going to have millennials, those people who believe that having an Internet connection is much more important than having a car."

Some longtime business owners, however, have their doubts that the promised economic development will materialize. They also worry new sales and property taxes could be a disincentive to customers and businesses coming downtown.

"It's just one more obstacle we've got to overcome to attract and retain tenants," said Thomas R. "Buzz" Willard, president of Tower Properties, which owns the Commerce Trust Building and other major properties.

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