Martin City Sets Example for Community Improvement Districts

Martin City Sets Example for Community Improvement Districts

Structure, Motivation and Management Keep Revitalization Chugging Along.

A Community Improvement District (CID) is only as good as a community makes it, and Martin City has a lot to show after more than a decade of hard work. We first came together to create momentum for the overhaul of 135th Street and now we’re building on that success to spread the renaissance throughout our community.

No CID is perfect, but the Martin City Community Improvement District (MCCID) has certainly made a difference that has people around the state of Missouri talking. The redevelopment of 135th Street has transformed the heart of our community and sends a powerful message about what we can do when we all pull together.

“135th Street really says it all,” says MCCID District Manager Vickie Wolgast. “It took many years to plan and complete and there were so many chances to derail or compromise the vision along the way, but none of that happened. The fact that the project turned out pretty much as intended is a real testament to the work of CID members past and present, and their ability to stay focused and disciplined all the way down to the spending on flowers.”

Before and after images show how closely the new 135th Street matches the original vision.

Adjacent to 135th Street is Holmes Road, the target of the next critical step in the expansion of infrastructure improvements. Holmes redevelopment is on the City of Kansas City’s priority list but the pandemic has slowed things down. Meanwhile, we continue working through the end of the design phase with an eye on winning approval for construction as soon as possible.

A rough ride south on Holmes Road into Martin City
A rough ride south on Holmes Road into Martin City
A backed-up Holmes Road and no sidewalks greet you in front of Fishtech.
A backed-up Holmes Road and no sidewalks greet you in front of the Fishtech campus.

“Holmes Road is so important,” explains Wolgast. “It’s the other major infrastructure piece that will really bring everything together in Martin City. “Those businesses along Holmes have been so patient waiting for their turn. When you look at 135th Street now, it’s hard not to get anxious. Holmes needs the same treatment and everyone knows it will really help unlock our community’s potential.”

MCCID District Manager Vickie Wolgast is working to help win approval for Holmes Road construction from KCMO.

While infrastructure improvements may be seen as the MCCID’s biggest achievement so far, Wolgast puts our rising reputation right up there too. There’s no denying that Martin City’s name recognition has come a long way. Our community has earned the love and support of many people who didn’t even know we were here until recently. Wolgast feels like that’s the sweetest part of our success.

“I run into people excited about Martin City and I can remember when they didn’t know our name. Everyone is so enthusiastic about what we’ve accomplished on a grassroots level. We’re getting attention like never before and there’s a tremendous amount of interest in how we’ve been able to do it. That makes me really proud of the MCCID and what it’s become.”

View looking west along 135th Street at Holmes Road in Martin City.

Built for Results.

You’d be surprised at how many people don’t realize that Martin City is not an actual ‘city.’ We used to be, a long time ago, but we’ve been part of KCMO for years. So, why form a CID in the first place? Why not just work through KCMO’s City government to move revitalization forward? Wolgast says the answer pretty much boils down to a speed and control advantage. 

“As a self-taxing entity, the CID is a smart way to generate revenue for projects that might not otherwise be funded by KCMO. It also allows us to get to work quicker rather than going through the City’s traditional channels where we would have to compete with all kinds of other interests and priorities. That’s a long, uphill battle.”

Take 135th Street for example. Wolgast says if we had relied on the City alone without any help from the MCCID, we might still be looking at the old, crumbled pavement today. 

135th Street in Martin City in 2008, before it was redeveloped.

“The MCCID raised money to get the project started. We purchased the right of way for the entire street running through our community and it wasn’t easy. While some property owners donated their right of way, we had to negotiate with others, one at a time, and then turn all of that over to KCMO to spark momentum. That’s the same kind of momentum we’re now working to create for the overhaul of Holmes Road.”

A clean and safe main drag on 135th Street in Martin City.

Not every CID is governed the same way and that’s where you might say Martin City is onto an especially good idea. The MCCID is carefully structured to ensure the right people with the right motivations are in control and focused on the best interests of the collective community. Wolgast believes we have our priorities straight and that has a lot to do with the makeup of our Board of Directors.

“The MCCID Board has seven members and they are all property owners with locally owned businesses in Martin City. They have a direct stake in the success of the community. The combination of property ownership and local business ownership ensures a feeling of community ownership, and all the honesty and integrity that keeps it on track. The Board and the rest of the CID members want the best for Martin City because they are Martin City. This is their community.”

When something belongs to you, you tend to take better care of it and that’s the driving force behind our success. Martin City businesses pay taxes into the MCCID every year, so they’re naturally inclined to make sure money is spent well in a way that benefits the growth of the community on the whole.

“I think we’re a good example of how to do a CID right,” says Wolgast. “We’re doing what needs to be done and we’re spending our money carefully on the right things.”

MCCID Board Members own property and businesses in Martin City.

Right on the Money.

Of course, money management is a core responsibility of all CIDs. When you’re empowered to raise tax revenue, money must be handled with transparency right out in the sunshine for everyone to see. There’s no room for exceptions that might invite suspicion, and your methods must always be ready to withstand scrutiny. Wolgast says the community-focused, intensely local character of the MCCID’s governing board goes a long way in ensuring fiscal responsibility.

“The right oversight is essential,” says Wolgast. “In Martin City, you’ve got the community’s key stakeholders controlling the spending and that keeps money flowing toward the greater good. We also have the support of the South KC Chamber, who was hired in 2018 under a managed services agreement to manage the Martin City Community Improvement District.” As both the SKCC President and the MCCID District Manager, Vickie Wolgast is at the heart of the partnership..

“The vision for 135th Street was a big reason the MCCID came into existence back in 2005,” says Wolgast. “It’s a tremendous milestone to now begin shifting our budget from development to maintenance, and also planning for Holmes Road.”

CIDs don’t always have built-in safeguards, leaving them vulnerable to misguided budget tugs-of-war. Some CIDs allow owners of undeveloped property on their boards who don’t have a business in the district or any other meaningful connection to the community. The result can be pressure to spend on isolated property development that offers little benefit beyond the property. Other CIDs are formed around a single property owner which can also open the door to spending that’s too narrow or self-serving.

“We don’t allow competing interests like that on the MCCID board,” says Wolgast. “We’re very disciplined about who we select and we couldn’t be happier with the results.”

These days, the MCCID is dedicating most of its budget to maintaining 135th Street, planning for Holmes Road, and expanding beautification and other infrastructure efforts.

The MCCID budget helps support the maintenance of the new 135th Street.

Money also goes toward private security patrols at night which have helped curb crime at area businesses. Two wonderful Community Interaction Officers from the Kansas City Police Department frequently watch over Martin City, however, the District feels additional security is necessary to ward off crime at night when many businesses are closed. The security company flags everything from unusual activity to unlocked gates and keys left in cars.

Martin City’s Community Interaction Officers from the Kansas City Police Department – South Patrol Division.
Officer Aaron Whitehead and Officer Mary McCall

MCCID also funds a variety of business development efforts to raise awareness about our community and draw visitors interested in our hometown charm and attractions.

It helps to have the full backing of the South Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. Wolgast’s dual role has been particularly effective in connecting Martin City businesses with additional resources and the attention they need. “I love bringing people together to solve problems in Martin City. It’s one of the best parts of my work,” says Wolgast. 

One recent problem has been the Coronavirus pandemic. The toll it’s taken on our restaurants is no secret and every show of support from the community is precious. That’s why Wolgast and the SKC Chamber created the Gift Card Challenge during the worst of the lockdown phase in the spring. The Chamber pushed hard to promote the Gift Card Challenge as a way to put a little extra money in the pockets of restaurateurs in their darkest hour.

“We really worked to get the word out and promote Martin City restaurants regardless of whether they were SKC Chamber members. It was a great example of all of us pulling together to create an opportunity to help, if even in a small way.”

Participation is the Only Path to Potential.

If you’re a business in the Martin City CID, or work in the Martin City area but don’t know much about our CID, now is the time to get involved! Things are happening fast and revitalization is in full swing. If you’re wondering whether the MCCID is sort of a ‘club’ culture that may feel a bit exclusive, please don’t give it another thought! You are a stakeholder in Martin City and you are more than welcome to participate.

Monthly MCCID board meetings are held on the second Thursday of each month, from 8:30 am-10:00 am, at Jess and Jim’s Steakhouse (unless otherwise noted on our event calendar). Meetings are open to the public and meeting minutes are posted on our website as soon as they are available.

Martin City CID board meeting

The Martin City CID reflects a diverse community made up of all types of businesses – ranging from dining, entertainment, athletics, fitness and motorsports to retail shops, professional services, education, technology construction, industrial —the list goes on and on. Did you know? Nearly 90 businesses make up Martin City! Two of them, Tesseract Ventures and Fishtech Group, were even listed in the Top 10 Kansas City startups to watch in Startland News

“Our diversity is a blessing and a challenge,” says Wolgast. “Bringing everyone together is difficult and we really need participation. Our CID and our community can’t fully achieve its potential without all businesses from all corners of Martin City getting involved and helping us make decisions about the future.”

Habitat for Humanity ReStore Grand Opening in Martin City

Working with the Martin City CID also allows businesses to get to know each other and better understand each other. When we combine our perspectives, experience and judgment, we make smarter choices and find creative solutions to problems we share. Wolgast recalls the train whistle ‘problem’ the MCCID once worked through.

“For many years, businesses tried to get the railroad to declare Martin City a quiet zone to stop trains from blowing their whistles as they passed through the neighborhood. But it was going to cost a ton of money so we flipped the script and decided to actually embrace the trains, whistles, and all, as a symbol of our community’s heritage. Now, you’ll even see trains on our logo and our street banners.

135th Street East, Martin City
Martin City trains keep the heritage of an enduring community on track.

It’s just part of who we are and that whistle sound is now one of the best parts of dining at Jess & Jim’s Steakhouse. If you’re there when a train passes by it’s a bonus!”

Patio dining at Jess & Jim’s Steakhouse often includes a train passing by.

So don’t be shy! Help Martin City CID be all it can be as the vanguard of Martin City’s future and a model for other CIDs looking to make a difference. 

“You may have an idea or perspective we haven’t seen or thought of that could really improve our community,” says Wolgast. “If you can’t make the meetings, just email or call me to find out what’s going on. Just please get involved in some way. You’ll be glad you did!”

martin city business district