Friday, July 22, 2011

Power and Light: Taking Plastic Only

Well, hello.

The latest kerfuffle about the Power and Light district in downtown KCMO is gaining more publicity and momentum, with appearances by Tony Botello on TV news, and getting local talk radio coverage on KMBZ yesterday and today. It all started with a tip to Tony that people were being charged a $10 cover in the late night (after 10/11 p.m.) to enter into the "Live area" and that that cover was only payable with a credit or debit card--that cash would not be accepted. For many, including Tony, this became an issue that involved race, saying that many Black people, especially young Black male adults don't carry any plastic and only do business in cash.

On the surface this looks like a very simple issue: A business can choose to do business however it wants, and accept what it wants. By making simple decisions about how a business will be run, a business can tailor its clientele as well. This is all part of doing business and it's done every day, from deciding to serve alcohol to allowing smoking (if permitted by law) to what kind of food you'll serve and how much you will charge or whether or not you'll have a TV in your establishment... The problem comes in that the P & L has been subsidized by taxpayers and continues to be supported by them, first to the tune of $30 million and continuing to need millions each year, not yet being self supporting. So that fact, that tax payers all over Kansas City have contributed to the P & L district, complicates a lot of thinking here.

Before I proceed a disclaimer: I do not do the bar scene. Therefore, by default, I seldom go to "entertainment districts." I don't go places to drink. I go places to do stuff and/or to have a meal--my social life involves food, events and fellowship. A boycott doesn't affect me--unless there's an event, I'm not downtown.

Here are the issues: 1. The payment itself--is it OK or is it discriminatory? 2. The form required for the payment--just credit or debit card--is it OK or is it discriminatory? 3. Does the fact that Cordish, the management company that the city engaged to help develop, recruit businesses, and generally run the place has not freed itself from the need of continuing tax subsidies change any of the answers to #1 or #2? 4. Does the fact that the city make a big initial outlay of tax money in payments, abatements, and used eminent domain to gain much of the property for the district influence the answers to #1 and #2?

It's tough to argue the tax issue thing because the contract was written to allow Cordish to restrict access to the "Live district" even though ostensibly it is a public sidewalk. The city agreed to this--it's beginning to look like a bad bit of judgment on the city's part to have done that, especially in light of this cover charge just to enter the area. One good question that was asked during Shanin and Parks and never really answered was "Why is there a cover after 10/11 p.m. when entry is free before that?" Hearing an answer to that question, even it is layered in BS might open a window to the motivation that stands behind it.

As a part of EMS, I can tell you that very little that is good happens after midnight. Needs for security, police and EMS service jump after midnight and don't subside until everyone is passed out, asleep or gone. Some of that fee goes to support those services I would bet. Here's the question though: Is that fee designed to keep a certain type of people out, that in the eyes of Cordish, would create even more bad happenings? Is that something that a private corporation can do as part of their freedom to do business in the manner they choose? Can they do that with all the support they've received from the tax dollars of all Kansas Citians?

That's the nut of it, isn't it? That's why the posts from Tony have generated, for all of them, at least 400 comments and why the issue has been picked up by MSM. This is not as easy as it looks, either way, whether you want to stand up for Cordish, take a position about safety, or call it race and/or class discrimination.


Rachel S. said...

I read the article. I kind of tend to agree with the safety part of it. It might suck to use your card, but I agree that not much that is good happens after midnight, and the later in the evening it gets, the less likely one is to find people that are not drinking, have level heads, and pure intentions. I think that's just something we should all be aware of. I suppose it is profiling a little bit, and it might even be the case that the cover charge after a certain time of night is indeed meant to hinder or rid 'Live' of particular individuals or groups. I can't speak for those in charge, but I can tell you that regardless of whether they're fully-self-supporting businesses, or whether they are using our tax dollars, I would much rather go down there and feel that safety is a high priority, even if it meant sliding the plastic. (Westport, for obvious reasons of late, has a different clientele, and also a different level of safety, which ultimately makes it less desirable to some, and so is frequented less often by those same persons/demographics that frequent P&L more often).
My recommendation: Arrive by 10. (That might also be part of the impetus: to drive more business there before 10, where if people are sitting around, they'll probably be drinking, thus spending money, thus increasing profit for P&L.) But really, who arrives at P&L at 11:30 at night anyway? Either you're coming from somewhere else to keep partying at P&L, or you're starting the party really late; either way, I just don't think that judgment is as clear at that time of night, and that probably nothing fruitful and extremely valuable to humanity will happen at that time of night anyway.

The Observer said...

Rachel, great comment! I lean towards the business model idea myself. When you run a business, you are aiming to stay in business; thus you do the things that will cause customers to come, and more importantly, to return. If people don't feel safe, they will not return and they will issue the worse kind of word of mouth advertising as well. (Just ask the last owners of the Bannister Mall.)

My latest post on this issue is a guest post from blog writer and editor Wayne Hodges...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
The Observer

Bob G. said...

We ahave our share of shootings and fights outside of nightclubs in Fort Wayne (sure ain't the days of the 80s any longer), and I would NEVER go to any such places these days.
I went clubbing for a few years then, (and in NJ, of all places), and NEVER had anything like what occurs today...EVER!

Then again, in MY part of town(here), you can get shot almost ANYWHERE (and for no damn reason)...must be those poor, oppressed minorities, seeking a level of respect from everyone else.

Got news for 'em...that ain't the way to go about it.

Good post.

Stay safe out there.