Private sidewalks in Westport cause mixed emotions for business owners, KC residents

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Westport business owners are hoping private sidewalks will bring people back to the KC neighborhood, but not everyone is convinced the privatization is a good thing.

The Kansas City Council voted 8-5 on Thursday to turn ownership of sidewalks over to Westport business owners, allowing them to control who comes into Westport Square.

The boundaries for the new vacation region, which begins in April, are Pennsylvania Avenue from West 40th Street to Archibald Street and Westport Road from Broadway to Mill Street.

Business owners are hoping the new city ordinance will entice people who don’t go to Westport anymore because they're afraid of the crime to come back.

 

Kelly’s Westport Inn co-owner Kyle Kelly said his bar has lost business because of the increasing violence in Westport. He's spent over a year working with city leaders to develop a safety plan for Westport, culminating in Thursday’s vote to privatize sidewalks.

“I thought I was going to sleep great last night, and I couldn’t because I was thinking of all of the things that need to be done,” Kelly said Friday. “But yes, absolutely we are very excited.”

Weekend nights from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., anyone coming into the heart of Westport will be carded and must go through a metal detector. Purses will also be screened, and no weapons will be allowed.

Security will be handled by the same company that handles it for Major League Baseball, and the cost will be picked up by Westport business owners.

It was not a unanimous decision by City Council. Councilman Quinton Lucas was one of five to vote no, saying this is not an answer to Kansas City's public safety issues.

Lucas has a big problem with giving way public property and says there's no evidence this has worked in other cities.

“Sure, there are statistics that show there are incidents here in the Westport Square, but tragically, a young man lost his life on Main Street leaving Westport the other day, and the Lee’s Summit police officer who lost his life was in an area that would be outside of this vacation little region,” Lucas said. “And so the area that we are really addressing may not address the greater problem, which is the people that are sustaining violent crime are in the garages, areas around, and frankly it is something that is all around the city.”

Kelly said he and other business owners cann't solve the whole city’s ills, but they are working on their area of town.

“It is going to allow not only our public safety officers but also off-duty and on-duty police to patrol more in the perimeter, which will decrease some of those incidents,” he said.

People who frequent Westport have mixed emotions about the new ordinance.

“I mean I understand what they are trying to do to like protect people," Mylisha Hurt said. "It is a really good cause. I just hope that the whole process isn’t more of a hassle and like more hurts more than it helps."

Billi Ericsson wonders how we got to this point.

“Why isn't the city maintaining the safety of the surrounding area?” she asked. “I do understand that if it is given to private businesses, that they have a vested interest in keeping the property safe, so maybe they will do a better job of it.”

There has been pushback from civil rights leaders concerned about profiling.

A second ordinance was also passed Thursday, addressing that concern. At each entrance, there will be a third-party civil rights monitor to ensure it is a fair process.

If the city wants the land back at some point in the future, it must purchase it for $132,000 of taxpayer money.