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Main Street, Kansas City, Mo.,
... She's Comin' Back

Landscape Architect/Prime Design Consultant: Confluence

Custom designed branding elements in the plaza define individual spaces for a bit of personal space. Main Street District branding is expressed through a new logo integrated into street light pole enhancements, ornamental light pole bases, planter railings, stone seating, and here incorporated in custom-designed panels. The panels are also effective skateboard deterrents. On the sidewalk are large posters with black and white images of Main Street's past. Native plantings, such as purple coneflowers, decorate the planters along the corridor.

Like all streets that go by the name of "Main," Kansas City's Main Street is a place where diverse communities connect.

Once a primitive wagon road, Main Street became a central axis for the city by connecting the river to freight depots and displacing the levee as the principal arena for business activity.

Union Station, the nation's second largest train depot, was built on Main Street in 1914, resulting in the widening and paving of Main Street. Over the next 50 years, Main Street experienced a boom. Companies such as H+R Block, Wishbone Salad Dressing and International Baking Companies (now Hostess) got their starts on Main Street.

Bars and jazz clubs flourished along Main Street in the 1920s and '30s, an era when Democratic political boss "Boss Tom" Pendergast controlled Kansas City and Jackson County, Mo.

In the Roaring Twenties and into the 1930s, the latest technologies could be found in the Main Street theaters and movie houses. The area became a commercial center with hotels, restaurants and shops, including a haberdashery owner named Harry Truman, who would become, in an unlikely scenario, the 33rd president of the United States.

Between 1940 and 1970, Kansas City was considered a crossroads of America, but by the 1960s, Main Street, like many other areas in the city experienced rapid urban decay. Kansas City began to annex land, eventually becoming one of the largest cities by area in the U.S. During this period, many historic buildings were demolished to make way for parking lots and office buildings.

Limestone, indigenous to the Kansas City area, is integrated into some of the street-side planters as short-term seating. The decorative, custom metal planter railings protect the sidewalk landscaping, while giving pedestrians an open view of the plantings. Norwegian sunset maples are among the selected street trees.

Main Street Today
Main Street today, as in the past, links special places in Kansas City: the historic River Market District, downtown, Crown Center, Westport and Country Club Plaza. It is a corporate and commercial corridor that mixes entertainment and theatrical venues with small retail shops and businesses. Midtown Main Street is surrounded by the lovely historic neighborhoods of Union Hill, Old Hyde Park, Hyde Park and Southmoreland, within which exist some of Kansas City's most stately homes.

Beneath the Thomas Patterson Plaza a time capsule was placed in connection with MainCor's 30th anniversary. The capsule is to be opened in 2041 to celebrate MainCor's second 30 years. From this position, the four (4) photos on the interpretive panels align to create one historic image of a nearby building.

In 2008, the Main Street Corridor Development Corp. (MainCor), in association with the city of Kansas City, commissioned Confluence to develop a streetscape master plan. With the adoption of the master plan, Confluence has continued to partner with MainCor and the city to implement the initial two phases of the plan. Confluence facilitated community involvement in reshaping Kansas City's Main Street.

The guiding principles of the design focused on pedestrian circulation, building stronger brand identity for the corridor and creating an identifiable atmosphere that redefines Main Street as a destination, rather than just a conduit to move traffic.

'Residenza' pedestrian light fixtures (foreground) are attached to standard aluminum street light poles. According the manufacturer (Hess), the luminaires reduce the emission of stray light to only about two percent, and are energy efficient. Solar powered blue beacons atop the taller street light poles (background) are a historic design reference to the former streetcar line on Main Street, the "Blue Line."

A Pedestrian-Oriented Corridor
To achieve the project goals the design incorporates a number of pedestrian improvements. A number of street crossings were made narrower; the resulting "bulb-outs" are landscaped, or introduce storm water bioswales. All corners have ADA-compliant ramps and signals. The crosswalks with signals have specialty paving to clearly define the walking path for drivers. One intersection has a custom-designed pattern that celebrates 43rd Street as an "art corridor," linking Main Street to the city's many arts institutions: the Kansas City Art Institute, Nelson Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. LED pedestrian lights throughout the corridor upgrades the lighting to modern standards to enhance safety and security.

Instead of installing temporary banners that require regular maintenance, MainCor chose to introduce permanent branding elements to define the limits of the district.

District Branding
The Main Street District is expressed through a logo integrated into street light poles, ornamental light pole bases, planter railings, stone seating and interpretive panels. Confluence developed a signage campaign to help lessen the objections to the disruption caused by construction. These signs began to introduce the new brand to drivers. MainCor continues to incorporate the cat character of the signage campaign into marketing communications to business owners and prospective new Main Street developers.

The design team coordinated with Hapco to modify a standard clamshell light pole base and integrate the district logo. Concrete collars were installed to provide a clean and level base for all the streetlights. Key bike racks reinforce the circular district logo.

Main Street's Unique History
Community members indicated the need to give people more reason to spend time on Main Street. Because the history of Main Street is a source of community pride, the project integrates extensive historically elements into the streetscape.

An expanded pedestrian plaza is the "trail head" for the corridor history, presented through a series of interpretive elements. Four large story panels reinforce the brand identity, visible to traffic and encouraging pedestrian interaction. Confluence designed the interpretive panels. Text and images narrate and show the history of Main Street from its early days as a wagon trail to the present. A time capsule installed beneath the plaza connects today's Main Street community with tomorrow's. When visitors are positioned to read the inscription on the time capsule, a tetraptych of individual images align to reveal an historic image of the area. Interwoven throughout the corridor are bronze medallions inlaid in the sidewalks and bus stop "leaning rails" with fun facts about the area, significant history about the architecture, and stories of the people and businesses that helped to establish Main Street as the heart of Kansas City.

Custom-designed "Bike Lock" racks add a fun, artistic twist to the streetscape. These racks are located in combination with 'sit rails' and litter receptacles near two Kansas City Art Institute facilities.

Over the years, signs have been significant visual elements along Main Street. Historic signs inspired the street lighting and branding elements. Utility housings, a popular target for graffiti and vandalism, now have vinyl graphic wraps.

Even before construction of the project's initial phases, Main Street's makeover was being noticed. Today, MainCor is experiencing increased interest from new businesses and a number of previously under-performing properties are being redeveloped. The renewed pride in the community, the visible increase of pedestrian activity and a recent surge in private reinvestment in the corridor are proof the project leaders' vision was clear, that Kansas City is ready to bring back its Main Street.

Kansas City Main Street
Client: Main Street Development Corp. (MainCor) &
City of Kansas City, Missouri
Project Manager: Zimmer Real Estate Services
-Taliaferro & Browne: Civil
-SK Design Group: Quality Control
-TREKK Design Group: Surveying & Traffic Signals
-Lightworks: Lighting & Electrical
General Contractor: General Contractor: Greenleaf Construction
Interpretive Design: Confluence
Landscape Architect/Prime Design Consultant: Confluence
Photography: Confluence
Specialty Design: Dimensional Innovations

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May 19, 2019, 8:28 am PDT

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