BY ROY HARRYMAN
This article originally appeared in The Kansas City Star.
Nearly every day, Rev. Royal Scott Jr. gets reminded about why he’s part of a new organization boosting development in northeast Kansas City, Kan.
That reminder comes in the form of the shuttered Northeast Junior High School at Fourth Street and Troup Avenue. It’s a block from his Walnut Boulevard Missionary Baptist Church and causes him to recall better times.
“It’s my inspiration,” he said. “I went to school there and I remember all the stores. I know what this community used to be like and I know the potential it has.”
Scott, who serves as the volunteer executive director of Northeast Economic Development Corp., Inc., said memories of the past motivate him to strive for a better future.
The organization’s goal is to bring new housing for low- and moderate-income families. Organizers hope that once new rooftops pop up, businesses will follow. Those, in turn, will create jobs.
The group is working to bring development to the area between I-635 on the west, State Avenue on the south and the Missouri River on the north and east.
Scott said the organization was formed because community leaders felt a targeted, grassroots effort was needed to revive the area. One symptom: Housing demolition permits within its boundaries outnumber building permits by a six-to-one ratio.
“We’re trying to turn that around,” Scott said. “The school teacher, the police officer, those people who make contributions to our community … deserve good housing.”
He said plenty of property is available for development, although many lots hold abandoned buildings that need removed.
“If that can be developed, we are excited about how that can improve the tax base,” Scott said.
The organization is seeking a formal agreement with the Unified Government that would allow it to use federal funds for urban development. Those funds could reduce the cost of new home construction, down payments and closing costs. The group will also work directly with developers who are interested in the area.
Northeast Economic Development Corp. has a 15-member board, consisting mostly of northeast Kansas City, Kan., residents. In addition, representatives of about 30 neighborhood groups will be invited to join an advisory board. General membership is open to anyone, regardless of city or state of residency, and helps fund the organization.
“The community has an opportunity to buy in to what we are trying to do,” Scott said.
Unified Government Mayor Joe Reardon endorses what he sees as the organization’s “very focused effort.” He said the most successful redevelopment projects involve partnerships between the Unified Government, neighborhoods and development organizations.
“They are on the right path and there is a lot of opportunity in that particular community for great things to happen,” he said.
Scott said that, although the work is only beginning, initial support has been strong. More than 300 people attended a fall kickoff and fund-raising event in September.
“The support has been overwhelming,” he said. “When we started, we didn’t realize how much support we were going to get.”
The group tentatively plans to open an office staffed by volunteers starting in November. It is also planning a grand opening event. Another goal is to raise funds to hire a staff member.
Scott hopes these incremental steps will pave the way to renewal in some of the city’s most historic neighborhoods.
“I know it’s a great challenge because the area has been neglected for so long,” he said.
“The need is great. We know we’re not going to see an immediate change and turnaround, even in our lifetime. We want to build a foundation.
“It’s a matter of pulling everybody in the community together. It’s a movement.”
For more information on the organization, call 913.269.5493 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.