Friday, May 13, 2016

$100 Million Boondoggle - We're in the Big Time World Now...,


thepitch |  "The best thing that’s happened so far is that all the cones are gone.” 

This is what Michael Smith — chef and co-owner of the Michael Smith and Extra Virgin restaurants, in the Crossroads — tells me when I call him to follow up on our last conversation about KC’s streetcar system. 

That doesn’t sound much more upbeat than what he and four other high-profile restaurateurs said a couple of winters ago (“Sauce on the Tracks,” January 6, 2015). At the height of streetcar construction, Smith and his wife and business partner, Nancy Smith; Anton Kotar, of Anton’s Tap Room; Martin Heuser, of Affäre; and Howard Hanna, of the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, spoke to The Pitch about how the project was affecting their respective bottom lines. The port-a-potties, the jackhammering, those countless cones — the sights and sounds of a city’s costly transit project were repelling customers, said that roundtable. 

A year and a season later, the first Kansas City streetcar line in more than half a century is finally about to begin taking passengers. With a splashy opening for the 2.2-mile route set to start Friday, May 6 (coinciding with the Crossroads’ monthly First Friday art openings), and carry on through the weekend, I was checking back in with the Smiths, Kotar, Heuser and Hanna. Their businesses had survived. What now, though? Are they confident that the free-to-ride streetcar will bring fresh bustle to the sidewalks outside their doors — and send hungry people inside?

“I’m not sure that the streetcar, once it’s in full service, will have any impact on our business,” Michael Smith says. “But there’s a lot of stuff happening in the Crossroads — new hotels, a lot of activity. They have these same streetcars in Prague. We’re in the big-time world now.”