Judge will decide whether to hold streetcar election

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A Jackson County judge has wrapped up a two-day hearing, but he didn't rule whether he will allow an election that could lead to streetcars in Kansas City.

The proposed two-mile streetcar line would connect the River Market to Crown Center and several hot spots along the way.

In between those hot spots, Kansas City has chunks of open land, like a prime corner lot at 20th and Main, and lots of parking lots.

A consultant said the streetcar will attract economic development that will fill in the blanks along Main street.

Bradley Tong helped create streetcar systems in Portland and Seattle.

Tong was brought in as an expert witness in favor of Kansas City's streetcar plan.

He said Portland's $100 million dollar investment of tax money to build its streetcar line has generated more than three billion dollars in private investment in that neighborhood.

Tong also says streetcars turned a "desolate" Seattle warehouse district into a hip neighborhood.

But can that happen in KC?

Tong said you can't guarantee hipness, but that young professionals and creative types want to live and work in vibrant cities that have streetcars.

Wednesday afternoon the judge made comments indicating he might rule in favor of calling an election.

Kansas City Councilman Russ Johnson believes the city has satisfied all requirements for calling an election.

If the judge rules yes, the first election would be a mail-in vote of downtown residents only.

People who live along the route would have to approve creating a Transportation Development District (TDD), which is a special taxing district.

If it's approved, then a second election would be held focusing on the exact funding and the proposed taxes.

Right now, the city plan calls for higher sales and property taxes only in the district along the route, not city-wide.

You can expect street car supporters to campaign by pushing not just transportation, but economic development benefits, as private money builds condos and new businesses along Main.

The judge did say he would weigh the concerns expressed by property owners who would be taxed but can't vote on the issue because they don't live downtown.

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