The other day, I got to see the Iowa Speedway for the first time since coming to Newton. It gave me chills.
Seeing all of that open land around the area and that gorgeous raceway a sense of deja vu overtook me. I have seen firsthand the effect that having a state of the art raceway in your own backyard can do for a city and the local economy.
When I was growing up in Kansas City, Kan., our city had nothing. A city with a population of more than 100,000 people, adjacent to Kansas City, Mo., had absolutely nothing going for its self.
The one mall in town died off after gang violence. When that mall went away our movie theater closed, then all of the restaurants in the area left. With the destabilization in our local economy, our crime rate skyrocketed throughout the 1990s. To many people, “KCK” was considered an unsafe place.
That reputation for crime still haunts the city to this day despite the fact that the violent crime rate has dropped off nearly 50 percent in the city since 1990. The city’s violent reputation is more bark than bite these days. And while KCK isn’t quite the place you would leave your doors unlocked at night its not a bad place to live at all.
The primary catalyst in our crime going down is the Kansas Speedway. Our speedway was the dream of our then Mayor Carol Marinovich. Her dream was that the speedway would turn a bunch of empty fields in Western Wyandotte County into the biggest tourist attraction in Kansas.
While it started out slow her vision for our city eventually came to fruition and now the Legends/Village West area is the top tourist destination in Kansas and one of the primary retail spots in all of Kansas City — a place that is littered with shopping centers.
Our speedway saved our city. It created jobs, it brought in more money for our town, and gave our city an identity other than being the “other” Kansas City. The addition to the speedway led to KCK getting the first brand new grocery store built in 30 years in the inner-city.
It led to development all over Wyandotte County. The area around the University of Kansas Medical Center on the opposite end of town has new developments being built as we speak. That new grocery store was built a few miles from our downtown right in the midst of a very urban area. That shopping plaza twas also the launching point for the fast food franchise Jack-in-the-Box to return to the Kansas City area after a nearly 30-year absence.
I have seen firsthand what a speedway can do to a community that is in need. It’s a wonderful site. All those empty fields that were once the landscape of Western Wyandotte County now contain hope. There are a plethora of jobs there now. There are hotels, an indoor and outdoor water park, a soccer stadium and a minor league baseball stadium, Cabela’s, the only Nebraska Furniture Mart outside of Nebraska, a state of the art movie theater and more shops and restaurants than I can list.
I don’t think it was an accident that I came to Newton. I truly do believe that I came here so that I can witness history twice. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next few years with all the land outside the speedway.
After all, I’ve seen one community saved. Why not another?
Staff Writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org via email.