Leaders vow push to improve KC jazz district

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Elected and business leaders are vowing to no longer let Kansas City's historic 18th and Vine jazz district limp along.

Before falling into disrepair, the area east of downtown became world famous for the hard-swinging, bluesy jazz style played in its club. As part of a two-decade-old effort to restore the area, housing has been added and new homes built for the American Jazz Museum, the Negro Leagues Baseball museum and, later, the Black Archives of Mid-America.

But despite the tens of millions of dollars spent on the projects, restaurants and retailers struggle to thrive there.

The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/17IzH6d ) reports that vacant buildings dating to the district's jazz heyday have fallen into such disrepair that the city demolished one last year for fear it would fall on visitors during baseball's All-Star Game celebrations.

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver said that when he stands on the corner of 18th and Vine, all too often he's "frankly frustrated." People with interests in the area blame a lack of a comprehensive plan at the outset, as well as two recessions and other economic setbacks.

But there's hope. Cleaver, now newly re-engaged in district affairs, is suggesting new projects, such as a jazz walk of fame to spur tourism. Private investors, led by barbecue baron Ollie Gates, are now taking a serious look at bringing in more than 100 additional housing units as well as developing commercial space where crumbling buildings now stand vacant in the vicinity of 19th and Vine. The housing units that already have gone up along with restored properties have waiting lists.

"This is a good area," Gates said. "You have to keep putting something there until it catches on."

City Hall is also tightening its focus on attracting development dollars. The city spent nearly $300,000 to buy and stabilize two long-vacant properties — the Boone Theater and the old Crispus Attucks school.

Also this year, the City Council gave the Negro Leagues museum $500,000 for completion of a museum annex in the Paseo YMCA building, where in 1920 eight independent black team owners met to lay down the bylaws for what would become the Negro Leagues.

It's only the beginning, said City Manager Troy Schulte.

"My argument is we're over $70 million into this thing," Schulte said. "Now is not the time to stop."

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