I was pretty devastated to hear the news today that two locally owned restaurant establishments have, or are soon, going to close their doors. Apparently the Mango Room has already closed. If I'd gone there as often as I intended to I would have known that already. Meanwhile, Magazines and Coffee looks like it is closing its doors on Friday. Sad.
It can't really be a surprise that some of the local businesses are struggling. I noted a couple of months ago that I had noticed a decline in business at some of my Midtown haunts following the opening of the Kansas City Power & Light District. This, combined with the recent smoking ordinance (and the new one that will take affect in June) are definitely having an impact on locally owned businesses. (I will note that both Mags and Coffee and Mango Room were already non-smoking). That's it, tax incentives for the big guys, restrictions on the little guys.
The results can already be felt in other areas -- especially in the 18th & Vine District where the Peach Tree Restaurant is moving to their new downtown location.
Could we at least look at helping small restaurants provide better outside seating options to help them still retain smokers?
The truth is that Kansas City doesn't have the downtown density yet to support everything that's there. It's coming, but it's not there yet. Mayor Funkhouser addressed the density issue at his most recent neighborhood community meeting in the Hyde Park neighborhood. The question came up about light rail -- and the mayor of course was more than happy to talk about the subject.
He noted, and agreed with the questioner, that KC doesn't currently have the density to justify light rail. However, he also noted that KC as a city cannot thrive unless it builds that density. The city cannot continue to survive with people continuing to flock to the suburbs and only driving in to work. The city infrastructure cannot deal with a model that is nearly 100% driven by the automobile and people living in other cities/states.
I happen to agree with him on that, so it got my mind spinning on ideas to encourage people to live in KCMO vs one of the other suburbs...along with some thoughts on encouraging the use of public transit. Here are a few ideas:
1) How about incentivizing businesses to go to four day work-weeks or providing more opportunities for employees to work from home one day a week. This could lighting traffic load on our highways by 20% instantly and well as reducing emissions, gas consumption and wear and tear on roads. We also have to spend less public money on things like parking garages and surface parking lots with fewer cars on the road (thanks Shayne for that idea).
2) What if we provided tax credits for money spent on public transportation? We already are providing credits for people who buy Hybrid cars, why not do so to encourage public transit. And it should be done in the form of credits, not deductions, as many low-income and young professionals who rely heavily on public transit don't itemize their taxes because they don't own homes. Maybe this wouldn't make sense on a federal level (because there are some areas where transit is already well established), but certainly would make sense for the state of Missouri and Kansas to offer this.
3) What if we waived the KCMO earnings tax on people who live in KCMO? The main point of the earnings tax is to get revenue from people who use the roads/infrastructure but aren't paying property taxes that help pay for them. If we waived the tax for people who lived in KCMO we may encourage more people who work in KCMO to live in KCMO, which would increase overall tax revenue for the city having more people living here...which would help downtown businesses and improve our use of public transit.
I'm not sure of the practicality of all these ideas - or of the unintended consequences that come from all incentives. But I think they at least bear some consideration. We need to give people more attractive reasons to choose KCMO over our other suburbs in order for the city to thrive - and reward the types of behavior that we want them to take part in. Plus, I'd love that 4-day work week.