For almost a year, one of Kansas City’s most controversial subjects- much to my surprise- has been whether or not to invest $3 million into Northeast’s 9th & Van Brunt Soccer Complex.  In so many ways this investment would realize an effort that began 15 years ago.

I know, because I was one of several Northeast neighborhood people working on this project, at that time as president of the Indian Mound Neighborhood Association.  But if anyone put his energy into this project more than anyone else it was Ron Heldstab.  You may not remember him but for many years he served as Lykins neighborhood president in the 1990’s and 2000’s.  For many years, he was the neighborhood as far as most people were concerned.  When the Lykins Community Center was closed in the mid-2000’s he tried hard to get the City to reinvest back into his neighborhood.  The answer, with the support of the Parks & Recreation Department, was to convert the former Trolley Barn that sat at 9th & Van Brunt, which was simply a dumping ground for tires, into a soccer complex and community center.

Even at that time, soccer was felt as an unmet need in Northeast.  Northeast kids had very few facilities and certainly nothing was available for league play.  There was a plan to try to acquire the buildings immediately to the east of the site to make a community center, but the price tag to pursue the building has proven to be too high over time.  We wanted to make the soccer complex happen, at a minimum, and with the help of Park Board members John Fierro and Meg Conger, and the help of Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II who helped bring $2 million into the project, it happened.  The facility opened in 2012 with the hope that our Northeast kids would finally have a place just as good as any in the metro they could call their own.

The plan was always to find a way to make more artificial turf fields possible so that we could accommodate more kids.  Years went by and Swope Soccer Village was built for about $20 million and more recently the fields in the Northland were built at a price tag of about $36 million.  Each had their own financing plan and each filled a need for the kids that are now playing there.  But these fields don’t cater to the kids – the Northeast kids – who need these fields at 9th & Van Brunt.  We were able to get some money, and an earmark from Congressman Cleaver to get what you see there now completed. 

Now the City has a Parks & Recreation Director that is not only  committed to providing recreational activities and put RECREATION back in Parks & Recreation, but to provide them for the kids who desperately need them.  This was the vision of 15 years ago, and we have a department that is willing to make the investment today, if only they will be allowed to do it.

This is actually the second attempt by the department to fulfill the original vision for the site.  A year ago, the Board of Parks & Recreation was prepared to use the General Obligation Bond authority that voters granted it in November 2022 to reinvest $3 million in this facility to finish what was started a decade and a half ago.  I must admit to how satisfied I felt that this project would finally be complete.  However, this investment was met with stiff resistance by the last Council who felt that $250,000 in PIAC money to fix the current artificial turf field was enough, and that Parks & Recreation shouldn’t invest further.  Instead the $3 million the department was prepared to spend through General Obligation Bonds went for more carpet in Bartle Hall.

Now the Department is prepared to spend $3 million of money out of its reserve to fulfill the vision…and they are still getting push back!  This area and those kids were worth investing in 15 years ago.  The next generation of Northeast kids are worth investing in now.

This City has made a big deal of, and rightfully so, of gaining seven World Cup games in 2026.  Who knows what countries will be represented here, but it stands to reason that teams will be arriving here from Central and South America, Africa, maybe Southeast Asia.  When they come they may ask where the sons and daughters of their countries play. They play here, and they deserve fields that are just as good as those for the kids in Brookside and the Northland.  So I’m going to fight for that investment and I hope you will too.  My friend Ron would have wanted it that way.

– Scott Wagner