<< Return to Blog List

The Oklahoman: "It’s working in Kansas City."

by Laura Patriquin | Mar 17, 2023

During the 2023 Big 12 Tournament, KCADC and several leaders from around the region met with Berry Tramel, writer for The Oklahoman, to discuss many of the exciting new developments happening in Kansas City. His findings were highlighted in a feature in the Oklahoman, published on March 16, 2023.

Excerpt from The Oklahoman:

Kansas City remembers its rivers

Kansas City is a river town. Actually, a two-river town.

The mighty Missouri River, which forms part of the border with Kansas, you probably know about. Home to those riverboat casinos north of downtown.

The smaller Kansas River, known as the Kaw, which flows into the Missouri and also serves as the defacto border between the states.

But Kansas City historically has not embraced its rivers. While cities like San Antonio and Oklahoma City have taken small rivers and produced big things around them, KC largely has ignored its big river.

That is changing.

“Kansas City turned its back on this river,” said Jon Stephens, president and CEO of PortKC, a Missouri port authority designed to grow the economy of Kansas City through transportation, logistics and revitalization.

And the Missouri is a “fantastic river,” said Tim Cowden.

Cowden and I met almost a decade ago. He’s an Edmond Memorial and OU graduate who now is president and chief executive officer of the Kansas City Area Development Council, which seeks to boost the economy of the two-state, 18-county region of 2.5 million.

For several years now, part of my trip to KC for the Big 12 Tournament has included a half-day with Cowden, who peels back a layer of his adopted city. I assume Cowden is Kansas City’s biggest cheerleader; I can’t imagine anyone with more enthusiasm for the old city that has been a stopping point for OU and OSU athletics for going on a century.

And last week, Cowden alerted me to Kansas City’s desire to make its riverfronts vibrant. Including a sparking new soccer stadium that will be home to the Kansas City Current, which joined the National Women’s Soccer League as an expansion franchise in 2021, and an abandoned railroad bridge being turned into a public park.

I had lunch with [president of the KC Current, Allison] Howard, Stephens and a group put together by Cowden, at the historic Brick in downtown KC, a former newspaper hangout across the street from the famed Kansas City Star building.

Also joining us were Martin Rucker, a former Missouri football star who now owns a trucking company in KC; Ben Walnick, an OU graduate and former Oklahoman intern who is co-founder (along with former Tulsa sportscaster Andrew Carter) of Let It Fly Media, a booming digital sports marketing company; Dani Welniak, an OSU graduate and the Current’s vice president for communications; Molly Kerr, an Edmond native and now a Bank of Oklahoma executive in Kansas City.

“We all dress like tourists,” Cowden cracked. “There’s a lot of pride here. We wear it on our sleeves.”

We had a robust discussion of all things Kansas City, then Cowden and I headed for the river.

The Current’s 11,500-seat stadium is under construction hard by the Missouri River. The project is part of an amazing success story.

The Current’s stadium is scheduled to open next March. It’s billed as the first major stadium constructed for a female-team tenant. Howard sees it as a community gathering place for not just soccer, but a variety of events.

She has been in KC about a year; the Current hired her from the Los Angeles Lakers, where she was a vice president. Howard made the trip to Kansas City and “was so inspired by everything.”

Oklahoma City is building its own soccer (and multipurpose) stadium. The most recent MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) vote included funds for a $37 million stadium, with a seating capacity of 8,000 that could be expanded. The site has not been selected, though downtown, Wheeler Park or the riverfront between those two areas have been prominent suggestions.

The OKC soccer stadium would be used by the minor-league Energy FC, which has suspended operations in part because of a lack of a stadium. Major League Soccer requires a minimum capacity of 20,000, but the Kansas City Current project could make OKC rethink its soccer goals. Would the NWSL work?

It’s working in Kansas City.

The stadium is part of Berkley Riverfront Park, and the KC riverfront is starting to percolate after a century of stagnation. New apartments have been built next to the river, with more planned, and the residents are the riverfront’s first in 100 years. A new hotel is going up along the riverfront, the first since the Coats Hotel in the 1880s.

But the stadium is the crown jewel. From idea conception to completion is about 37 months, a remarkable speed.

The Current is owned by the Longs, Angie and Long, and the Mahomes, Brittany and Patrick. The Longs are Kansas City financiers. Brittany Mahomes is a former college soccer player. Patrick Mahomes plays quarterback for the local football squad.

Ownership is building the stadium, with a price tag of about $145 million. The stadium construction fits in nicely with the 2026 World Cup, which is being staged in North America, and Kansas City is one of the hubs that will host games.

The World Cup is part of a Kansas City sports explosion. The NFL Draft will be held at KC’s grand Union Station this spring. The World Cup 2026. An expected new downtown baseball park at the end of the decade. And oh yes, the Chiefs are reigning Super Bowl champions.

“Kansas City is not just on a roll, but on a rise,” Cowden said.

Kerr noted that when she first got to Kansas City in the late 1980s, “downtown was blighted.” That certainly matches my KC experience; I started coming to the Big Eight Tournament in 1992, and KC’s downtown transformation is as dramatic as Oklahoma City’s.

And the Missouri River is not the only river makeover. Down in the West Bottoms, across American Royal Drive from the old Kemper Arena, sits the Rock Island Bridge, which once took trains back and forth from Wyandotte County, Kansas, across the Kaw River.

The Rock Island Bridge was built in 1904-05 and spans 702 feet. The railroads stopped using the Rock Island Bridge around 1970, and it’s sat unused since.

But Mike Zeller, CEO of Flying Truss LLC, had a vision of turning the bridge into an entertainment district over the river. And danged if it’s not happening.

Rock Island Bridge is becoming a double-decked public park. Flying Truss is teaming with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County on the project, and the space eventually will be home to a coffee shop, three bars, two commercial kitchens, 11 restrooms, bicycle lanes connecting the states and a private event center.

It’s believed the Rock Island Bridge will become the world’s first cross-river park.

“Kansas City has not done anything with our river,” said Flying Truss chief financial officer Mike Laddin. “Part of our goal is to activate the Kaw River as a social destination.”

Wyandotte County officials hope the park spurs economic development on the Kansas side, since Wyandotte is less affluent than its Johnson County neighbor, plus offer recreation to all residents.

Lannin calls the bridge a “structural battleship” that’s in great shape. It spans 25 feet wide, and 12 feet on each side will be added.

Fishing docks and a zip-line business are planned. Lannin envisions concerts, weddings, live music, art shows, even chess-club meetings on the bridge.

“To be able to have the first of its kind in the world is huge for us,” said Cheryl Harrison-Lee, administrator for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County. “This will serve as a catalyst project.”

The Rock Island Bridge sits a mile or two south of the Kansas City Current stadium site. Two rivers, two riverfronts, two big reminders that Kansas City is a river town.

Read the full story from The Oklahoman.

Leave a comment

KC by the Numbers

Brand Toolkit


KC News