KC mayor touts Kansas City’s progress, addresses challenges in State of the City speech

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City Mayor Sly James delivered his 7th annual State of the City address Tuesday, highlighting some major milestones but also opportunities to keep moving the city forward.

A big focus of the mayor’s speech was on rebuilding the city from the ground up. He touted the voter-approved $800 million in GO bond funding and the many projects now getting underway to improve infrastructure from sidewalks to streets, bridges and flood control. And of course, he highlighted another huge voter-approved measure: a new single terminal KCI.

He’s hoping that trend continues with upcoming voter approvals for expanding the streetcar line and extending a 1 percent sales tax that pays for neighborhood projects citywide and would help finance a new Buck O’Neil Bridge.

But the mayor didn’t shy away from some of the city’s challenges, including expanding opportunity to struggling sectors of the community.

He also said 2018 must be the year Kansas City gets off the most dangerous cities list and noted it will take “all of us to make it happen.”

“The state of our city is energized and optimistic and our people are as determined as to ever to show the world how it's done,” James said Tuesday.

Watch the mayor's full address in the video player below.

From the glimmering plans for a new KCI airport and a revitalized downtown, it's easy to find a lot of reasons why Kansas City is on the rise.

“When I left Kansas City, downtown was not what it was," Spencer Hardwick said. "There wasn’t a very vibrant scene for a lot of young professionals. But I saw a different picture emerging when I’d get on Facebook or call home and they’d say, 'Sprint Center is up! The Royals are doing well again.' There’s just so many different attractions."

Hardwick left his hometown to purse a Harvard education. After graduation, he spent time working on Wall Street. But he left it all behind to pursue a passion for giving back, first as a classroom teacher and now as a managing director with Teach for America.

“One thing Kansas City really has is proximity to power, the ability to move around, get things done, meet a lot of great people and really have an impact on your community,” Hardwick said.

But with opportunity also comes obstacles. There are still deep socio-economic struggles in neighborhoods citywide.

“We have to think differently about issues that continue to plague our community,” Hardwick said.

The Northeast Alliance Together, or NEAT, is working hard to change perceptions and build stronger neighborhoods in the historic northeast.

“We don’t really feel like we’re stuck at all. We feel like we’re making a lot of progress,” said Mary Cyr, director of NEAT.

NEAT is forming well-organized neighborhood associations, embracing its rich history and cultural diversity. Those groups are also working closely with police to maintain a safe community.

“That’s kind of how we build and prevent that kind of violent crime. We build on the relationships and the neighborliness that we’ve already got up here,” Cyr said.

Melissa Saubers of Waldo agrees.

Although no one likes the spike in violent crime in Kansas City, she sees so much more good than bad. In five years, the entrepreneur has built a successful co-working business that's about to expand to five times its current footprint.

“I think Kansas City’s the perfect place to start your own business. It’s got affordable housing, low cost of living and so many great resources. It’s just a very supportive environment,” said Melissa Saubers, Co-Work Waldo president.

She sees the untouched pockets of the city as opportunity zones and is hoping growth in sectors like Wornall and Troost will continue to be contagious.

“We have to be patient in order to see our progress,” Saubers said.

And certainly that sense of optimism is what James is conveying. There are things the city can still do better, but by and large, many believe Kansas City is heading in the right direction.