This is the final question for candidates running for city council in Westwood. Four candidates are running for two at-large seats. Today’s question is:
Besides projects already in progress, where is the next opportunity for Westwood to enhance its business community?
Before giving my opinion on where Westwood’s next business opportunity is, I’d like to examine a current, extremely complex business opportunity that would bring commercial development (and 244 apartment units) to the south parcel of Rainbow and 47th Place: Woodside Village Phase II. This south parcel is located across from where the high rise is being constructed. A second, much larger, complex would be built where the outdoor tennis courts are now, as well as where the Woodside building sits, further down the street.
A Kansas City Star article on March 30, 2016 stated: “Woodside Village is a two-phase development that received public incentives in 2011. The city incentives, which include tax increment financing, known as TIF, and a Community Improvement District, are capped at $22 million.” The Star also reported that it appears the developer will soon ask for that cap to be raised. The construction costs for Woodside Village Phase II have gone from an original estimate of $35 million to a whopping $61 million.
This election is important for many reasons. The new Westwood City Council could be voting on this very issue in April 2016 or soon after. I would like the council to carefully examine every facet of the new development and TIF agreement on Woodside Village Phase II. We must ensure that this TIF arrangement will be a benefit, and not a detriment, for Westwood residents.
Where is the next opportunity for new Westwood business? Perhaps the row of shops on Rainbow could be spruced up. The location is excellent, but let’s see how the traffic patterns pan out once Woodside Village is up and running. I am concerned about how the traffic from Woodside Village will affect our residents.
The area west of Lulu’s Thai restaurant on 47th St. might also be a good location for new restaurants or specialty shops. One last thing: If folks haven’t eaten at Lulu’s, I highly recommend it! Let’s support all of our local businesses and help them thrive.
The next opportunity I see for Westwood to enhance its business community is to invest in relationships and infrastructure along 47th Street.
The west end, at the intersection of 47th and Mission Road, is already thriving and, thanks to Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue, nationally known. As the Woodside Village project completes at the east end, we will have another small cluster of shops and restaurants, including a new offering from Kansas City’s Bread and Butter Concepts (which brought us Taco Republic). Between we have a number of existing businesses and space for opportunity. The area is growing. I suggest the new city government encourage more active commercial cooperation. If we lead, instead of wait, we can focus on locally owned, smaller businesses that fit Westwood’s character.
In a 2007 Redevelopment Study, the 47th and Mission Road Committee envisioned 47th street landscaped from east to west with better traffic and parking controls, resulting in a greener, more walkable space. As new businesses open, Westwood should consider re-investing the resulting new tax revenue into 47th Street improvements.
A reason I focus on 47th Street is that one of the principles I believe our citizens want to follow is that businesses and other development stay on our main corridors: Rainbow Boulevard, 47th Street, Mission Road, and Shawnee Mission Parkway. I agree very much with this principle. It keeps heavier traffic at our edges and helps our interior stay quiet, walkable, and livable.
There are other opportunities beyond that, but a focus on 47th Street would be a good way to strengthen our working relationships with Kansas City Kansas, Roeland Park, and our business community, and control the entry of new businesses to ensure they align with our vision.
Finally, in the first Public Meeting for the Westwood Master Plan, several residents suggested a new, locally-owned coffee shop. I whole-heartedly support this opportunity. What better spot for elected city officials and citizens to meet and, simply, talk?
Before I answer that question, I want to say that we must keep business on the perimeter of the city. There should be no more attempts to change our zoning laws to allow business in residential areas.
I think one place where we can make an immediate impact to enhance our business community is to improve business signage in our city which would improve the aesthetics of the Rainbow corridor. What can we do to encourage current landlords to require updated signage when renewing a lease? How can we update our sign ordinances to bring some modernization and uniformity to that area?
Obviously, we need to continue to see the 47th Street redevelopment through to fruition. I realize we have some new businesses on the Westwood side of 47th Street and I don’t know what the 47th Street redevelopment committee has in mind, but I certainly encourage examination of any opportunities that present themselves or can be created through cooperation with the businesses between Lulu’s and Walmart. It’s easy to envision quaint retail and walkable commons in that area yet to be transitioned.
It has been suggested that we move city hall to the current Westwood View school property to free the current city hall lot for development. Before we do that, residents need to know the cost. What is the cost to repair and maintain the current city hall vs. the cost to build and maintain it in another location. Is the current site a truly viable location for retail or development, how will it affect traffic in the area? Most importantly, how will it impact the residential neighborhood just behind city hall. Any development in that area absolutely must meet the requirement of being sensitive to the surrounding neighborhood. I would suggest that this kind of major change to our city would require significant resident involvement through information sessions prior to a public hearing.
I will reference our master plan once again. If we have a cohesive plan in place, businesses should feel more confident about moving to Westwood because they will know what the plan is for the future. If I were a business owner, I would be hesitant to move to a city that seems—publicly, at least—to lack clear direction.
The Rainbow corridor will see significant interest from the business community in the coming years, in large part from the “ripple effect” created by a completed Woodside Village project. The University of Kansas Cancer Center and Hospital also continue to make strong investments in Westwood and along Rainbow.
These developments will bring hundreds of new residents, employees, and customers to the Rainbow corridor’s doorsteps and will result in vastly-improved streetscapes. We are already enjoying expanded transit emphasis. As a result, property values are increasing and businesses in this important area will be in positions of strength. Further public incentives should not be necessary for businesses to take advantage of these opportunities.
Westwood is well-situated to attract not just brick-and-mortar businesses, but members of the entrepreneurial and startup community as well. The nearby Kansas City Startup Village and Village Square, at 45th and State Line, offer great examples of a residence-scale technology startup culture that could be fostered in our undeveloped parcels. The availability of high-speed fiber and our close proximity to the metropolitan area’s best amenities make Westwood attractive to flourishing startup businesses.
Westwood already has established partners in these efforts. The Enterprise Center in Johnson County (ECJC) recently moved from Lenexa to Northeast Johnson County in large part because of the potential for entrepreneurial growth here. Westwood is home to Red Nova Labs and KJO Media, two successful business startups on Rainbow. Westwood should also look to the efforts of our neighboring cities, such as the Startup Workforce Relocation and Expansion Program recently launched in Shawnee.
I have been engaged with the startup community for several years. I have facilitated programming on this topic for the Leadership Northeast program, and I have been a legal advisor for a local startup incubator’s mentoring program. As a member of the City Council, I would be prepared to lead Westwood from day one in attracting new entrepreneurs and businesses to our city.
I appreciate the opportunity to have shared my vision for Westwood with you this week. I ask for your support and your vote this Tuesday, April 5!
Monday’s question: Drawing families for Westwood View
Tuesday’s question: Leading the growth in Westwood
Wednesday’s question: Providing constituent services
Thursday’s question: A vision for the decade