Q & A: Kansas City Mayor
Kay Barnes

Kay Barnes became the first woman to serve as mayor of Kansas City when she was elected in 1999. Improving city services, and beginning the revitalization of downtown, were just a few of the goals she accomplished while in her first term. After being re-elected in March of 2003, Mayor Barnes hopes to continue her past successes, as well as causing greater job creation and better housing. In the following interview, Mayor Barnes discusses her future plans, getting an NHL team and being a cheerleader.

What’s the hardest aspect of being mayor? 
The hardest part of being mayor is managing my time. I am invited to so many events, in addition to the everyday meetings with staff members, neighborhood organizations, business leaders and other groups I have each day. It is sometimes hard to fit in all I need to accomplish in one week.

What’s that most enjoyable aspect? 
I enjoy knowing that I am working each day to make Kansas City a better place to live, work and play for everyone lives here.

What do you want your legacy as mayor to be?
I’d like to be remembered for working hard to revitalize downtown Kansas City, improve basic services, create momentum in housing development citywide, and encourage job creation.

Where are you planning to place the stadium? 
For the foreseeable future, Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadiums will stay where they are at the Truman Sports Complex. We are continuing to work on a financing package which would build a new arena somewhere downtown, but the details, such as were it would be exactly, are still being discussed.

What would be your dream for the Downtown area to City Market? 
My vision for downtown, including the City Market, is for it to be a clean, appealing, vibrant place that attracts visitors and those living here in the metropolitan area, as well as attracting new businesses, retail and recreation amenities, and is a place people want to live, work and play. I want to see lively streets, people enjoying parks and walking paths, which connect to retail shops, entertainment venues and hotels. I’d to see urban markets, more unique residential opportunities, theatres, clubs and restaurants and cultural destinations.

Are there certain cities that have impressed you with their urban development? 
Over the last decade, Denver has taken impressive steps to revitalize its old downtown warehouse district. Now the area is full of shops and restaurants, which are all connected to venues such as the football and baseball stadiums and an amusement park via public transportation. It’s an exciting, vibrant area. We’re fortunate in Kansas City to have Wayne Cauthen as our new City Manager. He was working for the Mayor of Denver during Denver’s resurgence, so he has a great deal of experience which will help us with our efforts here.

What complaint do you get tired of hearing? 
Kansas Citians pay taxes, so they have a right to make their voices heard when they think something isn’t going the way it should. I can’t fault them for that. However, I do wish people who haven’t been downtown in a while would take the time to visit before they say that there’s nothing going on downtown. The initiatives and projects underway in the heart of Kansas City comprise an impressive list: H&R Block recently announced plans to build its world headquarters downtown, in conjunction with a new retail district, a new downtown library is opening this spring, construction is underway on a $200 million new facility for The Kansas City Star, a spectacular Performing Arts Center will break ground this year, there are plans for the expansion of our convention center, the old Federal Courthouse is being renovated, 6,000 jobs are headed for our Union Station area, and the list goes on. In addition, we’ve added more than 5,000 new housing units in the greater downtown in the last three years. Millions of dollars in public and private money have been invested in downtown, and it shows. We have work yet to do, but the improvements in just the last five years are significant.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment?
I am proud of overseeing initiatives that doubled the amount of tax dollars dedicated to infrastructure needs and increased the amount of funding for deferred maintenance. I have worked to increase the number of residents living in downtown Kansas City by encouraging the addition of 5,000 new housing units in the last two years. This momentum has led to $2 billion of public and private money has been invested downtown, with millions more to be invested in the next four years. Along with the City Council, I have led campaigns for voter approval of millions of dollars in improvements to Kansas City’s police and fire stations and ambulance service, and the addition of 180 new police officers to Kansas City’s streets. These are some of my biggest accomplishments.

I am a diehard Detroit Redwings fan, but I’d be willing to change my allegiance if we had an NHL team.
I’d like to see an NHL team come to Kansas City along with a new downtown arena. Kansas Citians have proven time and again that they are great sports fans, and I think they’d support a new franchise here.

What events would you like to see come to the new arena? 
I’d like to see a new arena be a multiuse facility that would accommodate all types of sporting events, including the return of the Big XII Basketball Tournament, as well as other NCAA and NAIA games, our own professional hockey, NBA, and/or arena football franchises, and other college and professional sports events. A new arena would also be used for concerts and other entertainment shows, and convention-related events. I’d like to see a new arena marketed creatively so that it is used for a wide variety of events year round.

How are we lacking compared to other cities of similar size with new arenas? 
Many of our peer cities, as well as many smaller cities, have constructed new, state-of-the-art arenas that are very attractive to promoters. Kemper Arena has served Kansas City well, and we have done our best to renovate it for multiple uses. However, it cannot compete with the newer facilities in other cities. It can, however, be retrofit for broader uses by the American Royal Association, which is associated with plans for a new downtown arena.

What are the three most important tourist attractions in Kansas City? 
It’s impossible for me to define only three important tourist attractions in Kansas City, because everyone who visits has different reasons for being here and different tastes. Kansas City has hundreds of unique attractions which appeal to just about anyone, from great shopping, historic architecture, sports venues, parks, restaurants, and arts and cultural venues.

How do you feel about the commercialization of the Plaza? 
The Country Club Plaza is a privately held entity, and as such, its owners must make decisions which they believe will result in success. Districts like the Plaza must evolve and change in order to survive. What some might call commercialization, others might see as attempts to provide a product that will attract the most visitors and buyers. I personally think that the Plaza is an exciting, vibrant place of which Kansas City should be proud.

If you were to build a new stadium downtown, how would you deal with all of the traffic? 
Building a news stadium downtown isn’t something we’re considering right now. However, any plans for a new arena or other large-scale amenity which would draw many people into downtown would include carefully prepared parking and traffic scenarios. Many other cities have built arenas, stadiums and other venues in their downtown areas and have addressed traffic and parking conditions, so we will have much information and experience on which to draw if and when we face a similar situation.

Do you have any plans for a light rail system? 
Currently, there are no concrete plans for a light rail system in Kansas City. Ballot proposals to finance light rail have failed in Kansas City a number of times in the last decade. However, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority has plans to implement a new bus rapid transit system, called the Metropolitan Area Express (MAX), by summer 2005. The MAX buses will run on dedicated lanes from the River Market to the Plaza along Grand Boulevard and Oak, Wyandotte and Main streets.

How will the downtown library enhance that area? 
The plans for and construction of the new downtown library have already enhanced the area. Several loft apartment and condo buildings surrounding the library have already been completed and are full of new tenants. In addition, the new library will occupy an architecturally grand former bank building, which makes for a stately home for the new library. I anticipate that when the library opens and more and more people are drawn into this area, additional redevelopment, including retail and restaurant venues, will occur.

Is there a plan for dealing with the homeless who use the library as a haven in every season? 
The executive director of the Kansas City Public Library has said that homeless people will be welcomed at the new library, as they have been at the old location and are at other locations across the city. There are efforts under consideration which will protect library patrons and those living in the area from anyone, homeless or otherwise, who commits harassing crimes in the area.

During inclement weather the shelters fill up quickly, has this been addressed? 
The City monitors homelessness issues through the Neighborhood and Community Services Department, which works with various homeless shelters and organizations and tries to help these groups ensure they have the tools they need to meet the challenges of serving the homeless in Kansas City.

What’s your favorite childhood memory of Kansas City? 
When I was a cheerleader in high school (St. Joseph, Missouri), I loved our trips to Kansas City when we played against North Kansas City High School in basketball and football.

What’s your favorite barbeque restaurant? 
I like them all!

How can I get a key to the city?
Keys to the City are generally given to visiting dignitaries.

Culturally, where would you rank Kansas City? 
Kansas City has a rich and diverse cultural base. Although culture is a broad term and encompasses a great deal (including law, religion, language, education, science, and the like) you are probably asking about such things as the arts and, more broadly, what there is “to do” in the City. Kansas City is home to professional and semi-professional sports teams, several colleges, conservatories, medical schools and universities, a significant arts community. There are dozens of galleries, to say nothing of established museums. Speaking of museums, Kansas City has some that are particularly appealing, such as The Toy and Miniature Museum and the SteamshipArabia museum. The Harry S. Truman Library and home are located in the metro area, in Independence, and the library plays host to a number of exhibits and events. In the spring, the library will host a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka ruling. The Lewis and Clark Bicentennial is being commemorated across the United States, and in 1804, the Corps of Discovery spent time here, and celebrated the first Independence Day west of the Missouri – hence, this summer Kansas City will host one of the signature events of the bicentennial. The City’s history is also revealed in the built environment, and certain locations, such as Union Station, Liberty Memorial have been saved from the wrecking ball and now stand in testament to our history.

At the risk of sounding like a travel brochure, let me return to the question. I rank Kansas City quite high on the culture scale. No matter what your interests, Kansas City has something for everyone.

What additions or improvements would you like to see to our city’s museums and art programs?
I’d like to see more widespread support of the arts in Kansas City, and a realization by more of our residents that we have numerous world-class arts venues here that offer unique and educational exhibits year round.

In addition, I’d us to recognition that art education is vital, and shouldn’t be cut in times of budgetary difficulties.

What Kansas City public schools would you recommend to families and why (even though I know your granddaughter goes to Pembroke Hill)?
Both of my children graduated from the Kansas City Missouri School District, and I taught in the district at the beginning of my career. While this district garners a great deal of attention, and much of it negative, it, along with the 14 other public school districts which serve students who live in Kansas City, Missouri, has a number of outstanding schools and programs. We have many districts, educators and administrators in each district which have received national recognition for excellence.

How do you use your motivational background as mayor? 
My years as a consultant in the areas of communications, leadership development, management and supervision, team-building and time and stress management helped shape my philosophy and approach to being mayor.

As mayor, I face different challenges and situations each day, and I use my background in all of these areas to help me make decisions which will be in the best interests of the citizens of our city.



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