Kansas City’s efforts to make a good impression for the rest of the world are bittersweet for residents of some inner-city neighborhoods who are asking why it took a baseball game to get city officials to do something about blight they say has been ignored for decades.
For months, city workers and volunteers have been cleaning up areas before Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game activities were scheduled to begin Friday. Code enforcement officers have been hounding residents since early spring to tidy up their properties, and dozens of dilapidated homes were hastily being torn down ahead of the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday night.
Hosting its first All-Star game in nearly 40 years, the city has been scrambling to present a positive image not just to TV viewers but thousands of out-of-town fans expected to be in Kansas City over the next several days. The event will provide a much-needed financial boost and city officials acknowledge there’s a lot at stake for a community struggling to establish itself as a Midwestern entertainment and business hub.
The spotlight brings a special challenge for Kansas City. Super Bowls and All-Star Games are often held in arenas or stadiums that are either near downtown or next to tightly controlled developments of hotels and restaurants, usually within walking distance.
That’s not the case in Kansas City, where Kauffman Stadium is miles from downtown and many of the city’s entertainment districts and events associated with Tuesday’s game. Some events are being held in the city’s toughest ZIP codes, prompting the city-sponsored demolitions and pleas from city officials.
“Clean up your property,” City Manager Troy Schulte said of the message to residents. “They’ve had no qualms about it. Kansas City residents are putting their best foot forward.”
While many are glad the work is being done, some take it as an insult that the improvements are more for the benefit of out-of-towners.
“The conversation is, ‘Why did it take this?’” said Pat Clarke, executive director of a local activist group PAC 20. “This is something that needed to be done a long time ago.”
On Monday, as a demolition crew was tearing down an abandoned house near Cleveland Park — one of four community ballparks where the RBI Classic youth baseball and softball tournaments will be held over four days — Clarke noted the home’s history.
“For years, drugs were run out of that house,” he said. “Also in that one across the street, and in a vacant lot a few blocks over, with the Boys Club right behind it.”
Schulte said 32 homes in neighborhoods near the ball complexes and along the route to Kauffman Stadium are being torn down ahead of the game. They are among the roughly 125 abandoned homes the city plans to tear down this year, he said.
Overall, there are about 800 structures on the city’s list of dangerous properties that need to be fixed or torn down. Partially as a result of preparing for the All-Star activities, Schulte said, the city is moving from a scattershot approach in dealing with blighted homes to one that is more neighborhood-based.