As people and businesses shift back to the heart of Kansas City, downtown’s time is now

By JON COPAKEN | Special to The Kansas City Star
For too many years, discussions of corporations and downtown have turned into negative diatribes about how organizations are moving away from our urban core.

The talk quickly turned into an introspection for downtown leaders: What are we doing wrong? Why haven’t they come? What more do we have to do?

This is the thinking and attitude of a previous generation. Companies seeking to tap a broader talent pool and get into the flow of innovation are looking back to downtown. The leaders and influencers who deny that the move to downtown is real — and is even in their best interest — need to ask themselves why the innovative, entrepreneurial companies see it, understand it and are doing it, both from within Kansas City and from out of town.

Companies like DSI, Valorem, MindMixer, Sporting Innovations, Sungevity and Nerdery come to mind. These companies, and others, will be tapping your talent pool as you remain on the fringes of the metro area. The young residents of the area see it, too.

We cannot build apartments fast enough downtown. The first modern high-rise residential building in 40 years is under construction, with another one not far behind. Downtown’s population is now 21,000 residents (more than most of our peer cities), and there are 1,500 units under construction and 2,000 additional planned.

During the past seven years, downtown has welcomed the Sprint Center, the Power & Light entertainment district, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the Grand Ballroom at Bartle Hall. The streetcar is now serving as a catalyst for transit-oriented development, to the tune of $1 billion in investment so far. A thousand new hotel units are currently in development with more on the drawing board.

Company leaders who haven’t kept up with everything that is happening downtown will undoubtedly bring up the usual suspects — parking, commute and safety.

Well, try this on for size:
  • Cost of parking — These issues are neutralized through incentives.
  • Nothing to do — Are you kidding me? Try locating on someone’s farm.
  • The commute — Look at where your people are moving and consider not just the drive time to and from work but the time it takes to drive out to lunch, drive to a meeting, drive to do anything compared to walking across the street.
  • Cleanliness and safety — The Downtown Council and the Community Improvement District’s downtown ambassadors alleviated this issue long ago.

Density is the greatest of financial incentives as the infrastructure, commuting and tax needs of the suburbs have become too burdensome and will only get worse. The urban core is the low-cost operational location for corporations. Downtown is a key cog of innovation, collaboration and quality of life.

When people bump into each other, good things happen. We must recognize that the important ingredient of spontaneous social interaction can only happen on the streets of a dense, urban environment. Outside of downtown, when you “bump" into each other, it usually involves police reports and insurance claims.

You asked for a vibrant, engaging, entertaining, safe and clean downtown. We did that. Now show downtown some love through the locational decisions you control.

Jon Copaken is a principal at Copaken Brooks and newly named chairman of the Downtown Council.