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By Leslie Collins
Northeast News
January 4, 2012

As Micah Kubic and Kirk Perucca talked about the Paseo Gateway Transformation Plan, it became evident their goal is to listen. Listen to not only the regulars that attend neighborhood association meetings, but also the ones who don’t. Listen to those with language barriers. Listen.

Since October, the two have been working on the Paseo Gateway Transformation Plan, which includes an approximately 1-square mile area bordered by East 9th Street to the south, Chestnut Trafficway to the east, I-35/I-29 to the west and the Union Pacific Railroad to the north. It also includes four neighborhoods: Pendleton Heights, Independence Plaza, Paseo West and Chouteau Courts.

The transformation plan outlines three main goals: revitalizing distressed public housing; supporting positive outcomes for residents in terms of health, safety, employment, mobility and education; and transforming distressed neighborhoods into viable, mixed income neighborhoods with access to public amenities like parks and transportation. Another part of the plan includes razing the outdated public housing at Chouteau Courts, 1220 Independence Ave., and redeveloping the units as mixed income housing throughout Kansas City.

A $250,000 Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI) planning grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is making the planning process possible. Together, the Greater Kansas City Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and Kirk Perucca Associates, Inc. are leading the “people plan” and community engagement.

“I’ve always been involved in community development activities and neighborhood revitalization has been one of my passions for a long time,” said Kubic, program officer at LISC. “It’s one of the things I did at (Kansas City’s) City Hall. LISC is one of the largest community development organizations. We help residents help themselves and figure out what they want in their neighborhood and figure out how to help them do it.”

Perucca, president and founder of Kirk Perucca Associates, Inc., isn’t new to the Northeast. He pastored Van Brunt Boulevard Presbyterian Church, 23rd and Van Brunt, and performed community outreach in Northeast. In addition to a Master of Divinity, he also has a master’s in public administration.

“What really excites me about this project is we’re getting to work with such a wonderfully diverse population,” Perucca said. “That’s what our organization’s about and that’s what my career’s been about – working in a variety of communities and working inclusively in communities.”

As part of the planning process, Perucca and two of his colleagues are gathering community input to develop a quality of life plan for the study area.

What are the positives and the negatives in the study area? What needs to be changed? How safe do you feel? Those are only some of the questions they’re asking residents. They’re visiting neighborhood associations, immigrant communities, communities of color and more, Perucca said.

“We’re really making sure everybody’s at the table and everybody’s voice is heard,” Perucca said. “Who’s at the table really makes a difference in how the conversation continues and the result of the conversation.”

As for LISC, it’s making sure to provide the tools Perucca needs as well as expediting the process for implementing the quality of life goals, Kubic said.

“This plan has the potential to really transform the area and do things neighborhoods and residents have wanted to do for a long time,” Kubic said.

To ensure the plan meets its potential, LISC and Perucca plan to host a quality of life planning day for each of the four neighborhoods. On the fifth day, the neighborhoods will meet together to discuss their vision for the neighborhoods in 2012 and beyond.

“I just think it’s a masterful process because this lets folks say, ‘This is what we want to see; this is where we want to be in 10 years,'” Perucca said of LISC’s process.

Both Perucca and Kubic emphasized the Paseo Gateway Transformation Plan is a community driven plan and input is vital. Individuals in the neighborhood are encouraged to contact Perucca at (913) 486-7010.

“Kirk and his team are doing a great job and we hope everybody would call him up, talk to him and be honest,” Kubic said.

Perucca encouraged Northeast residents to brave the cold and attend meetings so their voices can be heard.

Community input will be wrapped up in March, he said. From there, the Housing Authority of Kansas City plans to pursue an implementation grant from HUD worth up to $20 million to $30 million.

“This transformation plan really has the potential to reshape the transformation area, to do all the things the residents have told us and talked about for a long time,” Kubic said. “This is really an opportunity to deal with all those things in one fell swoop. The plan that comes out of it is going to be the resident’s plan, the people who live here and have a stake in the community.

“This is a chance to do something really big and important for where they live.”