Abandoned Northeast Kansas City reservoir site in Kessler Park is a 'blank slate'

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Kansas City is 159 years old. Many landmarks have been built in that time. Some are still standing, but others are long gone.

One monstrous structure in one of the city's oldest neighborhoods is somewhere in between.

"Quite a piece of real estate here," said Kent Dicus, who lives in the Historic Northeast section of Kansas City.

Dicus is referring to a massive abandoned reservoir in Kessler Park, along the Cliff Drive Scenic Byway. He first saw it as a kid.

"The only thing I remember is the huge concrete abyss and the iron fence," Dicus said.

Decades later, it still remains.

The reservoir is dug into a relatively remote hill within two miles of downtown Kansas City. While Dicus has known about it his whole life, the reservoir's existence is a mystery to most people outside the Historic Northeast.

"You try to describe what the reservoir is, it's really difficult because you have to see it to really understand it," he said.

See photos of the reservoir | http://bit.ly/Pry0TW

The reservoir was built in 1920 to supply water to area homes and industries. It's 591 feet long, 225 feet wide and can hold millions of gallons.

But the vast majority of its life, the reservoir has been empty. It was drained in 1931 after only 11 years of use. Problems with leaking and an outdated design sealed its fate.

More than 80 years of abandonment have led to decay. Trees and weeds poke through cracks. Railings have rusted. Humans have transformed the reservoir too, covering concrete with graffiti.

"Other than that, not a lot has changed," Dicus said. "There's not any development here."

As president of the Northeast Kansas City Historical Society, Dicus hopes that can change. He sees the reservoir as a blank slate with tons of potential.

"It'd be wonderful to have a restaurant up here because you can see from all directions," said Dicus.

But that's easier said than done.

"Anyone can have an idea. It's about finding a way to implement that idea that's a lot harder," said Adam Schieber, president of the Cliff Drive Corridor Management Committee.

Schieber has visions of his own, including a mountain bike park and rock climbing walls.

Schieber said the biggest challenge for the reservoir's future has been finding a dedicated group that has the money for the transformation.

Recent momentum in Kessler Park, however, has given Schieber hope. The park recently received nearly $1.5 million in grants for improvements, like a bike path connecting it to downtown and a scenic overlook.

Schieber is optimistic the reservoir could be next on the list.

"It would be a draw that would go well beyond just the neighborhood and even just beyond Kansas City proper," Schieber said.

Whatever happens, Kent Dicus said it must be done right.

"We do believe in preserving our past. I think it has to be realistic and not just preservation, but also preservation with a purpose," Dicus said.

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