The city advocate struck a new chord at the Uptown Theater when he closed by singing “Going Back to Kansas City” with a rock band.
The event began with a brief video of James saying people are talking about the city, but “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
He also urged voters on April 5 to approve the 50-year-old city earnings tax, which makes progress possible.
The tax up for a renewal vote is again under attack by Rex Sinquefield, a mega-rich St. Louis libertarian.
With the city “reawakening unlike anytime in recent history,” James said, “now is not the time to disrupt the success and the momentum of our city with misguided attempts to change a basic funding mechanism.”
From his speech:
The recession was still on in 2011, dark days with businesses like Cerner relocating to Kansas.
But that same year, Google chose both Kansas Cities for its new gigabit Fiber.
Momentum started, tech innovators moved in, energy built.
The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opened in late 2011, the baseball All-Star game came here in 2012, the same year voters approved the Downtown streetcar project.
“Construction cranes started reaching for the sky shortly thereafter, many of them along the streetcar route.”
Along with the streetcar work, the city replaced more than two miles of ancient water and sewer lines that had been flooding downtown for years.
Somewhere along the way, ““KC” started to appear on shirts, caps, mugs, socks, beer and virtually everything that entrepreneurs could write it on.”
Cerner returned and is building a campus on the old Bannister Mall site that will create 16,000 good jobs.
“And the Royals got better too,” including a world championship that brought 800,000 people to the streets downtown without incident.
“Like our World Series Champion Royals, we’ve got momentum and we’re keeping the line moving.”
Development on the east side is also moving along, with about $2 billion invested in housing, infrastructure and capital improvements since 2011.
Improvements to technology, education and crime fighting are all making progress.
But the 1-percent earnings tax paid by people who live or work in Kansas City is critical to keeping it all going, James said.
It raises $230 million, about 40 percent of the general fund money. In the recently approved budget, about 75 percent of the $ 543 million general fund goes for police and firefighters.
Even with the tax, James said, money is short.
The new budget leaves only 25 percent of the general fund for things like streets, sidewalks, snow removal, trash collection and more.
That means hard choices ahead, but that does not frighten him, James said. “If I wanted to be loved every day, I would have opened a pet store.”
After he walked off stage, a band appeared and James entered from the wings to make his debut as a singing mayor.