By LESLIE COLLINS
February 19, 2014
Historic Northeast has been inundated with development and area plans over the years, plans that build upon other plans and then gather dust.
NorthEast Alliance Together (NEAT) is determined to break the trend.
“When we went into this, we said, ‘We don’t want to do another plan that’s going to sit on the shelves, and we don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” said Leslie Caplan of NEAT.
NEAT is a grassroots organization that officially formed in 2012 with a mission to “improve the quality of life for all in Kansas City’s Historic Northeast” and to support the development of a community that is “clean, safe, inclusive, economically thriving, sustainable and widely viewed as a desirable, sought-after destination.”
Over the course of two years, NEAT has been meeting with elected officials, city staff, property and business owners and others to discuss how to improve Historic Northeast’s sustainability.
The non-profit organization is comprised of a number of business and neighborhood leaders as well as other area organizations and includes representatives from the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Kansas City Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Hispanic Economic Development Corporation, Westside Housing, Northeast neighborhood associations, the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Mo., the North-East Public Library, among other entities and individuals.
In 2012, NEAT secured a Planning Sustainable Places grant from the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) to address four aspects: complete a real estate market analysis for the Historic Northeast District; complete a transportation system priority improvements analysis and prioritize sustainable infrastructural upgrades; develop a neighborhood conservation overlay district study to serve as a tool for preserving historically significant structures and for creating unified standards for future development; and identify re-use strategies for the former Federal Hardesty Complex. Called Invest Northeast, the overall plan built upon existing plans and was recently completed.
“It is a really extensive document, and it covers transportation, commercial development, residential development, education, culture, just a wide variety of things, and it gives some ideas of things that are lacking,” Caplan said.
With the Invest Northeast study complete, NEAT is now identifying 18-month, three-year and five-year goals and action steps and has divided into subcommittees to address implementation. In addition, NEAT will be seeking an implementation grant from MARC.
Asked how the group will make an impact, Dana Gibson, owner and manager of Mallin/Gibson Properties, said, “By creating opportunity… Kansas City is experiencing a nationally recognized general renaissance right now and the professionals showing up at NEAT are among the people making that change occur. Their attention, skills and even their happy hour conversations related to Northeast are already creating new awareness.”
Gibson, who serves on the Advisory Committee of NEAT, grew up in Historic Northeast and helped transform the River Market area into what it is today. Gibson and Mel Mallin finished their first warehouse conversion into loft apartments in 1986 in the River Market; since then, they’ve renovated numerous buildings into lofts, galleries, studios, offices and retail space. But, they understood their properties could not “stand alone.”
“If the quality of life of our tenants was to improve, we had to improve the neighborhood around us,” he said.
And that’s exactly what they did; they organized business associations, lobbied for city improvements, rallied neighborhoods. The same revitalization could happen in Historic Northeast.
“I believe Northeast is poised to experience a significant renaissance that many have sought,” Gibson said.
Mattie Rhodes is also an active member of NEAT, and Mattie Rhodes Executive Director John Fierro said Invest Northeast “provides a foundation for us to move forward.”
“The strength of NEAT is that it brings such diversity to the table,” Fierro said.
Another strength is that money didn’t bring members to the table, he said. The group formed before any grants were awarded or funding was available.
“We understood that the need existed, and we were wiling to come together and work with one another,” he said.
While the Invest Northeast plan highlights areas in need of improvement, it also highlights how Northeast is “on the right track,” Fierro said. It addresses the Independence Avenue Community Improvement District and the Hardesty Renaissance project to revitalize the former Federal Hardesty Complex.
“Just those two projects alone should really encourage the community that we really do have a couple of good starting blocks,” Fierro said. “What is required is that we go out and leverage dollars to make those two projects reach their full potential. Otherwise, we’re just looking at another plan that was developed and didn’t accomplish anything.”
Mattie Rhodes already has experience in leveraging resources and dollars, he said, and will remain a committed partner with NEAT.
“It is time for everyone in Northeast to put aside the negative, the cynicism, fear and limitations,” Gibson said. “The people who used to live in Northeast also need to open themselves up to new possibilities. Lamenting the way things used to be doesn’t bring any positive traction. We can all become a part of an even better future, for a neighborhood we still love. It is time to anticipate and demand good for Northeast.