Even with some success, Urban Core initiative mocked by critics

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Five years after it launched, federal money has run out for the Green Impact Zone. It was promised as a tool to help transform struggling urban core neighborhoods. Some neighborhood leaders say the effort did help jump-start revitalization in areas long neglected.

A couple of new electric vehicle charging stations installed in the Blue Hills neighborhood as part of Green Impact Zone spending are mocked by critics. They say the neighborhood has more pressing needs.

"I see a few of those around," said Mark Porter of 100 Men of Blue Hills. "People in the urban core at this point can't afford those sorts of vehicles, so we look at that as being a future thing, not a present advancement."

The Green Impact Zone was supposed to be about energy efficiency. And to that end, Blue Hills Community Services helped build new homes near 49th and Olive that are energy efficient. And some neighbors in existing homes took advantage of weatherization grants to install high-efficiency furnaces and energy star windows. But only about 200 homes received these upgrades and Missouri returned more than $2 million in grants that it didn't spend.

"The energy efficiency was a primary emphasis for us anyway," said Joanne Bussinger, executive director of Blue Hills Community Services. "The fact that the stimulus brought additional attention to energy efficiency, we were able to spread that in the community."

The new Blue Hills Business Center is an example. Energy efficient certified LEED Gold, complete with solar panels and a 6,500 gallon rain barrel to be used to irrigate a large community garden. The center also serves as a small business incubator providing support for minority entrepreneurs in the neighborhood.

Census data shows a slight improvement in home values and employment within the Green Impact Zone.

Neighborhood leaders want to continue the momentum even though they won't be getting $200-million in federal money initially hoped for as part of the urban core experiment.

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