By LESLIE COLLINS
October 2, 2013
Bobbi Baker-Hughes whipped out two pages full of “good things” happening in Historic Northeast. From grand openings to business expansions to awarded grant dollars, she listed it all from the past 24 months. Her latest addition to the list included the recognition Pendleton Heights received by This Old House magazine for being one of the Best Old House Neighborhoods in the Midwest.
Historic Northeast has a number of amenities, from nail spas to at least seven major grocery stores to fine dining and more, said the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce president.
“Millions of dollars worth of investments have gone into the Avenue the past couple of years,” she said. “We have so much, and part of the (Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce) strategic plan is to market what we have, so that we can get more. We have the basics in life and we also have the fine dining, the doctor, the dentist, the dry cleaner… Really, we have more events in this community than we can possibly list in the Almanac.”
Instead of focusing on the negatives, the community needs to celebrate the positives, including Historic Northeast’s cultural diversity, she said.
“We need to invite other businesses and other people to come and party with us, come celebrate with us, because there’s so much happening,” she said.
You could say the Chamber has already hosted one of those parties through the Taste and Tour event held last month. In addition to trolley tours showcasing the gems of Historic Northeast, attendees also got the chance to dance the night away to the sounds of the jazz and swing band The Grand Marquis and sample cuisine from around the world, thanks to local participating restaurants.
At least 225 people attended, many from outside of Historic Northeast.
“We have attendees who are already calling us – ‘What is the date for next year because we want to get it on our calendar,’” Baker-Hughes said.
The Chamber is already searching for a larger venue and even more restaurants are requesting to participate in next year’s event.
This year, the Chamber created a strategic plan and updated its bylaws and procedures, she said. Two of the initiatives include finding a visible storefront to house the Chamber offices and launching a new Chamber website, which will feature a new design, be more user friendly and will highlight even more “good things” about Northeast.
As for the Independence Avenue Community Improvement District (CID), the 1 percent sales tax within the district’s boundaries goes into effect Oct. 1. Over the next few months, revenue from the sales tax as well as the property assessments will begin to roll in, jumpstarting a number of initiatives, like addressing “crime and grime,” increasing marketing along the Avenue and hiring additional urban ambassadors to pick up litter and assist pedestrians and businesses. Eventually, the Chamber would like to host business leadership workshops and conferences as part of the CID. Another goal is to partner with local artists to revamp storefronts and create attractive window displays along the Avenue.
Another focus of the CID and the Chamber will be partnering with local agencies to create jobs and broaden access to education.
“That really starts to change the fabric of the community,” she said. “Jobs are really the lifeblood of this community – that’s what drives the Northeast, whether it be up or down. The majority of our community is well below the poverty line and the majority of our community needs jobs, so how do we do that? We have to do it as a consortium.”
Baker-Hughes also pointed out that there’s no sales tax on food stamps.
“If you can convert those food stamps into jobs, then everybody’s happy,” she said.
Although the CID is still waiting to receive funding, there have been some immediate perks.
“Going through the CID approval process, we’ve developed a lot of relationships, a lot of partnerships, and I think we’re starting to see the results of being able to partner with more businesses, more property owners, agencies and organizations to make things happen here in the community,” she said.
Inspired by a Facebook post, Baker-Hughes recently created “no panhandling” signs and sold them to businesses for $2 each.
“When we put them in the convenience stores, the cashiers were excited because they have some valid concerns about people being on their property and panhandling,” she said. “The stores have challenges that we hope to help them with, and education is a big piece of that.”
Each sign lists the reStart phone number, a local social services agency, and urban ambassadors are handing out cards with information regarding area social service agencies.
“I can honestly tell you there are some people on the street that don’t know about some of the resources available to them,” Baker-Hughes said.
Urban ambassadors will also assist businesses in asking panhandlers to leave the premises, she said.
As Baker-Hughes rattled off more items from her list of “good things,” she knows her list will continue to grow.
“I’m really looking forward to this upcoming year,” Baker-Hughes said. “We’ve got a lot of things in the works that will start to be realized.”