Kansas City’s 18th & Vine District could get makeover in future with funding approval

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The 18th & Vine District is one of Kansas City’s most historic neighborhoods.

It’s home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the Gem Theater and the American Jazz Museum. Countless jazz legends have played clubs in the district.

It’s also been home to blight, struggle and crime. But a $6 million plan could change that and make it safer.

Funding for the project was included in the INVEST in America Act introduced by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Monday.

The bill would earmark more than $20 million in federal funding for Kansas City metro requests, including a pedestrian plaza in the historic 18th and Vine District.  

The plan calls for E. 18th Street to be closed to traffic from The Paseo to Highland Avenue. It’s a two-block stretch that includes landmarks like the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the Gem Theater, jazz clubs and restaurants.

The city hopes to hold farmers markets, festivals, concerts and other events on the pedestrian plaza.

People who live in the area say the plan would bring more people to the area, but also make the district safer by reducing speeding and dangerous driving.

Tony Ealy III has lived in Kansas City his whole life. He remembers when the Jazz District was a booming spot for commerce and entertainment. 

“It’s a good idea to have something positive instead of something negative,” Ealy said. “You don’t want to wake up and every time you look on the news someone is dying down here you want to come down here and go shopping like when Vine used to be Vine.” 

It’s an idea some residents say would give people a reason to visit this historic area of town while also helping to keep the streets safer. 

Kemet Coleman will soon open Vine Street Brewing in the area. He said the plaza would be a good idea. 

“If we look at every city in the world and think about how great they are, most of them have a street where cars can’t go down,” Coleman said. “I think we can do that on 18th and Vine where we’re internationally renowned.” 

Coleman said the pedestrian plaza could benefit business owners and people in the community. He could see the area as a place where people would want to visit with their families. 

“I think it would give more people reasons to come down here,” Coleman said. “I think we have a great mix out here in the Jazz District, but having a great mix outside of just commercial uses is going to be great.” 

The pedestrian plaza is one of five area projects included in the legislation. Also included are:

  • $2.16 million to improve Kansas City’s Cliff Drive Scenic Byway
  • $6 million to buy zero-fare electric buses
  • $3.12 million to replace Raum Road Bridge in Lawson, Missouri
  • $900,000 for infrastructure improvements to downtown Odessa, Missouri

The act also includes billions of dollars for highway improvements across the country, bridge repairs, and expansion and improvements to Amtrak and other rail services.

Congress must approve the act and then President Joe Biden would need to sign it before funding is secured and work can begin on any of the projects.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II supports the bill and helped secure the five projects in his district.

“I think we’re going to have the opportunity to do a once-in-a-generation construction and rebuilding of our national infrastructure. This kind of spending and job creation doesn’t come along very often,” Cleaver said.

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