“Please put Holmes Road infrastructure improvements on the fast track!”
Revitalization efforts are transforming Martin City, creating opportunity and strengthening the economic profile of Kansas City, Missouri. Look at a map and you can easily see how it’s all tied together by the intersection of two major thoroughfares: 135th Street and Holmes Road. While 135th has been properly prepared for growth, Holmes is lagging behind, making local businesses anxious about the future.
The value of 135th Street’s rebirth speaks for itself and casts a long shadow over the decay of Holmes Road. A plan to overhaul Holmes is in the works but still waiting for a green light from the City of Kansas City, Missouri.
KCMO is certainly taking Holmes Road seriously. Massive improvements are on the City’s priority list and the design phase is well underway. However, there’s uncertainty about when construction will begin and growing concerns that it could be five or more years away. Meanwhile, patience is waning at Fishtech.
Fixing First Impressions
While the impact of every business in our neighborhood is valuable to our collective success, there’s no denying that Fishtech makes an especially big difference. The rising cybersecurity star’s investment in its Martin City campus is approaching $20 million, including two huge buildings on one side of Holmes Road and a third building across the street. There’s even more to come.
“We have long term plans that involve a bigger vision for our footprint in Martin City,” says Fishtech Chief Financial Officer Ryan Shreve. “We need the supporting infrastructure to catch up.”
People at Fishtech are enthusiastic about Martin City’s renaissance and eager to shift the Holmes Road project into high gear.
“We realize the City of Kansas City has many competing priorities,” says Shreve. “But Holmes really needs attention and its potential makes a quick start well worth it.”
For Fishtech, the problem with Holmes begins with the impression it makes on visitors. Fishtech is a high-tech brand, known far and wide for its cutting-edge expertise, innovative culture and modern campus design. Shreve says the road out front doesn’t fit that story.
“Holmes Road doesn’t help us make a good first impression and first impressions are critical to our relationships with clients, vendors, partners and potential employees.”
First impressions often start with the trip from the airport. Fishtech hosts a constant flow of visitors from Fortune 500 companies, Silicon Valley and all over the world. GPS systems tend to steer them to Holmes Road as part of the shortest route to Fishtech from KCI.
“They just don’t know what to think,” says Shreve. “They walk in and say, ‘We thought we took a wrong turn. That road is pretty rough.’ So we’re struggling with that. They’ve heard about us and have a certain expectation, and they’re already feeling a little disappointed before they walk through our doors.”
Fishtech Office Manager Kristy Meyers says she even tries to send visitors on a different route from KCI that takes them down 135th Street.
“We want them to know Martin City has the coolest little ‘main street’ in 135th Street but if they get here via Holmes Road only, they may never see it and that’s a missed opportunity.”
Frustration doesn’t necessarily end after visitors arrive. Meyers says there can be more when it’s time to look around and have a meal.
“We have to get a little creative because we really can’t take visitors on a walk even next door to Margarita’s. There’s no sidewalk and we can’t have them dodging traffic.”
“Stepping out with a crowd for lunch can mean walking along the side of the road in the mud,” says Shreve. “We’re trying to do business with our guests and we just can’t put them through that.”
Shreve makes it clear that a good first impression isn’t just helpful, it can affect the bottom line.
“Our goal is to attract customers to Fishtech and have them be a captive audience. A strong first impression is part of our sales process. They see the impressive design of our campus and the high-tech operations inside, but Holmes Road sends the opposite message.”
A Daily Struggle on the Road
Open offices, big-screen TVs, patios, games, food and even a sleep pod — life inside Fishtech couldn’t be sweeter. However, getting there and leaving isn’t so easy. Drivers have to deal with a railroad crossing nearby and navigate the narrow lanes of Holmes Road between ditches.
“Traffic can really back up in front with no turning lanes,” says Shreve. “We actually had to install some landscaping barriers to deter drivers from constantly pulling into our little parking lot across the street to turn around. It was happening over and over again all day and these drivers were coming within inches of our employees’ parked cars.”
Even walkers have to be strategic. Meyers says employees think twice about the weather when they plan their day.
“If it’s been raining, Holmes is so muddy that they won’t even try to venture out, and even if they do they won’t go far. We have so many employees who would love to walk downtown in Martin City to grab a bite to eat but just don’t. Upgrading Holmes Road would open all of that up. Right now it’s just not possible.”
Meyers says it’s pretty surprising how much one road can make businesses in a small community seem so far apart.
“Martin City has attractions. It’s a destination. People come here and love what they find but it’s not connected and that’s where Kansas City, Missouri can really step up quickly. We’re not talking about complex, risky ideas here. We’re talking about a smooth, wide road that handles the traffic, and sidewalks that allow people to get around without having to deal with mud, crumbled asphalt and the traffic danger.”
Expectations and Urgency
Fishtech Founder Gary Fish holds Martin City close to his heart and takes pride in investing in his property for the benefit of the community. The original idea to locate Fishtech in Martin City had something to do with Kansas City’s willingness to invest in the neighborhood as well.
“Gary saw the revitalization happening and wanted to be part of it,” says Shreve. “The City of Kansas City was already working on 135th Street when we started building Fishtech. I think Gary saw that and was inspired. It made him want to jump in with Fishtech and feed the neighborhood’s momentum, everything from our property and construction investment to our focus on Martin City businesses when we treat and entertain employees and clients. We were anticipating that Holmes Road would quickly follow the development of 135th Street.”
Shreve says Fishtech’s ongoing investment is a vote of confidence in Martin City’s future. He believes the City of Kansas City is on the same page and Holmes Road is a golden opportunity.
“We’re investing in the people, processes, technology and facilities to say this is a long term play. We’re going to be here for a long time and we need the City of Kansas City to demonstrate to our customers, employees and everyone else that it’s going to keep supporting us by moving quickly on Holmes Road.”
For Fishtech, overhauling Holmes Road isn’t just a convenience. Meyers says it’s becoming critical for sustained growth.
“We’re approaching 100 employees here in Martin City and we’re expecting to double that number soon, so the squeeze on Holmes Road is only going to get worse with more cars and more people.”
Fishtech’s presence has helped encourage surrounding businesses of all sizes to invest in their own properties which has raised standards up and down Holmes Road. Fixing the road sooner than later would confirm that the City of Kansas City remains committed to doing its part, too. Shreve emphasizes that the Holmes Road project is about supporting a community, not just Fishtech.
“It’s tough to see all of these businesses like us coming in to invest along Holmes despite the condition of the road. Running a successful business is so hard and these business owners are willing to make a go of it with the assumption that Kansas City will keep stepping up as well.”
Meyers is excited about the achievement on 135th Street, but she feels like it was more of a milestone and not the end of the story. She says a new Holmes Road would complete a bigger idea everyone shares.
“A new Holmes Road would work in conjunction with 135th Street to make all of Martin City better and stronger in a way that nothing else can match. It would unlock an energy that’s bigger than the road improvements.”
Like most businesses along Holmes, the bottom line for Fishtech is urgency. The faster we keep moving on the road to progress, the more we have to gain, and the less we have to worry.
“We want to show the world that we’re in the right place in Martin City and Kansas City, Missouri,” says Meyers. “We just need help and quickly. It’s already overdue and the wait is getting painful.”