Westport entertainment district in Kansas City renaissance comes with growing pains

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The once-troubled Westport entertainment district is enjoying a renaissance this summer, fueled by nearly a dozen new bars and restaurants drawing earlier and more diverse crowds to the neighborhood.

But that growth has come with growing pains.

Beau Williams and his wife Keely are part of that resurgence in “South Westport.” They opened their whiskey bar Julep on the corner of Archibald and Pennsylvania in April.

“Everything is locally owned and operated which gives a really great feel and kind of fits what we are as a family-owned business,” Williams said of the Westport District. “It just seemed like the right fit for us.”

Longer-standing bar owners in the district said they have finally succeeded in attracting a “9 p.m. crowd” – dinner goers and families from outside the city’s core who come for restaurants or music as much as bars and beers.

“What we're seeing now is what we all wanted it to be,” Gambals owner Jaysen Van Sickle explained.

But with the resurgence of Westport has come growing pains – typically in the form of unruly crowds that tend to gather at the corner of Westport and Pennsylvania around closing time for many of the bars.

YouTube videos shot by the Ida B Wells Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality in Kansas City show police using pepper spray to disperse the crowds on recent weekends.

Van Sickle dismissed the incidents as not uncommon for Kansas City’s entertainment districts. So far there have been no major incidents during this summer season.

“Have you pointed a camera at the other districts? It’s the same thing. It’s just - we're always going to have that stigma,” Van Sickle said.

Police have also been videotaped using pepper spray on fighting teens near the Country Club Plaza.

Westport business owners are well aware of the importance of safety in attracting business, and have spent accordingly.

District spokesman John Engleman said the district spends roughly $750,000 per year on cameras and private security.

Kansas City Police also provide a hefty security presence on weekend nights at Westport.

KCPD spokesman Captain Tye Grant told 41 Action News KCPD has more than 20 officers patrolling the district on foot and in vehicles on weekend nights during the summer. Another ten KCPD traffic officers occasionally shut down streets to control traffic flow late at night, and six to ten off-duty officers on average on a given night are hired by Westport to work additional security.

Williams said the security presence has been an important part of his and the district’s success this summer.

“This is going to happen in any entertainment district. You're going to have small incidents. Its keeping them contained as small - they've done an excellent job of that.”

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