By LESLIE COLLINS
January 30, 2013
“We’re very excited about what’s going on in the Northeast and we continue to believe very strongly that there’s a lot of potential there,” said Micah Kubic, program officer for Greater Kansas City Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). “There’s a lot of great things happening, particularly collaboration among all these great organizations and we feel this investment is going to really pay off in terms of improving the quality of life.”
Earlier this month, LISC announced its first round of 2013 grants for Kansas City area non-profits and $64,000 was awarded to Historic Northeast. Mattie Rhodes Community Center received $40,000 to fund a full-time community organizer in the Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood to implement the neighborhood’s updated Quality of Life Plan; the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce received $19,000 to continue its pilot Community Improvement District (CID) project that spans a one-mile stretch of Independence Avenue from Prospect to Jackson; and the Scarritt Renaissance Neighborhood Association received $5,000 to support neighborhood clean-ups and vacant lot maintenance.
Northeast Chamber President Bobbi Baker-Hughes said she was ecstatic when she learned the chamber received additional funding for the pilot CID.
“We did another happy dance because that’s going to allow us to enhance some of the crime and grime services that was in the pilot project as we continue to prepare for the full-blown CID,” Baker-Hughes said.
Most of the funding will be used for additional security enhancement, she said, which could mean security cameras, walkie-talkies for the urban ambassadors and CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) projects.
“We want to be creative in what we’re doing,” Baker-Hughes said.
Currently, the pilot CID employs four part-time urban ambassadors and the head ambassador is Northeast resident Michael Stovall. Stovall began Oct. 1 and works 20 hours a week, picking up trash along Independence Avenue, assisting pedestrians and being the “eyes and ears” on the street. The other three urban ambassadors assist with projects like weed eating, mowing the grass between the sidewalks and the street and picking up larger debris.
Stovall is already witnessing less trash on the Avenue as more people utilize his trash cart instead of throwing trash on the ground, Baker-Hughes said.
“It’s the most noticeable thing that has happened and it affects everyone,” she said of picking up the litter. “Everyone drives down and says, ‘Oh, it looks so much better out here.’
“I think what he’s (Stovall) been able to do with his feet on the street is really start some good conversations with the community, including residents, pedestrians, shop keepers, the homeless. He’s been able to start the conversation and a smile goes a long way. He shares his beautiful smile every day with a whole lot of people.”
Another component to the grant is marketing, she said. Last year, the chamber received $10,000 from the city of Kansas City for internal marketing and the chamber plans to leverage that money with the LISC grant, Baker-Hughes said. The chamber will market the CID and the businesses located within the CID boundaries. Baker-Hughes said she hopes to identify a marketing strategy by the end of this month.
For clean-ups, the Scarritt Renaissance Neighborhood Association will concentrate its efforts in crime ridden areas along Gladstone, Roberts, Thompson and Garner, said Scarritt Renaissance Neighborhood Association President Leslie Caplan. LISC funds will also be used to purchase eyewear, hard hats and a DR Mower, which serves as a mower, weed eater and chainsaw. The mower is able to cut through small trees and brush, a common eyesore on vacant lots.
The neighborhood wants to be proactive in maintaining vacant lots since the city can’t mow the lots as often as needed, she said.
“It improves the quality of life for everybody,” Caplan said of Scarritt residents and those driving through the neighborhood. “If they (neighbors) see someone taking care of the lot, then other people might be inspired to take care of their own properties.”
Two Scarritt residents, Ken Richardson and Adam Schieber, are spearheading the cleanup efforts but more volunteers are needed. Individual volunteer work doesn’t need to be weekly, and could be for an hour once a month or every three months, she said.
“We all have a responsibility in preserving the neighborhood,” Caplan said.
Last November, the Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood updated its Quality of Life Plan and decided that revitalizing the St. John Corridor was its top priority, Kubic said. That revitalization could include facade improvements, economic development, among others. Scarritt Renaissance is still discussing how it will achieve that revitalization, Kubic said.
LISC asked residents to divide their priorities into several categories, which included their top priority over the next two years, a series of smaller priorities that could be accomplished in a year and priorities that could be accomplished in six months. Community Organizer Sandy Ruelas will be tasked with making those priorities a reality, Kubic said.
“A lot of her focus will be on anything that can reduce crime and make people feel safer,” Caplan said. “We’re really happy to have her. She’s really enthusiastic and a go-getter, so that’s exciting.”
Two ideas in the works include creating a fenced-in dog park near the Kansas City Museum and installing an unconventional, artistic playground at the basketball courts near The Concourse. Caplan said one of the goals is to reduce the opportunity for crime by having more people utilize the neighborhood’s parks for positive activities. Those neighborhood assets could also attract potential home buyers and renters to the neighborhood, she said.
“We are very excited about it,” Mattie Rhodes Director of Community Services Susan Garrett said of working with Scarritt Renaissance. “It allows us an opportunity to work not just around where our building is located, but to really roll up our sleeves and do some work in other areas of Northeast.”