Sometimes it’s fun to wonder “what if?” An exhibit at the Special Collections Gallery at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Miller Nichols Library imagines how a number of proposed projects might have reshaped the Kansas City experience.

By Sandy Selby

An arch in Kansas City? It could have happened. An Astrodome-inspired downtown stadium? That’s not a 2024 idea. If a particular development dream had come true, Kansas City International Airport patrons would have parked downtown and taken buses and monorail trails to the airport on a dedicated trafficway that was closed to all other vehicles.

Immerse yourself in an alternate Kansas City universe at a new exhibit at the Special Collections Gallery at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Miller Nichols Library. The exhibit is the brainchild of Stuart Hinds, curator of special collections and archives at UMKC. 

“You know, when you’re working on a reference question or a research project, you just stumble across things,” he says. “And I kept stumbling across these ideas, and these proposals that never came to anything.” Over a couple of decades, Stuart collected project drawings and details until he had curated a fascinating collection of unrealized visions. Here’s a tantalizing sample of images from roads not taken.

KCI Transitway

With the opening of the new international airport in 1972 came concerns about increased traffic. The solution, perhaps, would be a dedicated trafficway that would carry passengers from a terminal at 12th and Broadway, through downtown, across the old Hannibal Bridge, and directly to the airport. As planning progressed, the Hannibal Bridge solution was replaced with a plan for a new bridge. The initial phase would have used buses for transportation, but there were hopes of eventually employing a monorail train to move people quickly between the downtown parking complex and the airport. This Jetsons-esque vision ultimately failed to secure local or federal funding, and we all have to find our own way to the airport.

Grand/Main Corridor

Despite the failure of other major downtown developments in previous years, there was renewed enthusiasm for a mid-1980s project that would create “a visually pleasing and cohesive urban corridor from Crown Center to the riverfront.” The conceptual drawings envisioned a traffic circle around a large fountain at 18th and Walnut, and a multilevel parking structure at 15th Street that would span I-670 between Grand and Main. This project fizzled when funding failed to materialize, but it may have inspired a recent idea. “This parallels a plan that was introduced within the past couple of years to put a top on 670 to make it a park,” Stuart says. “And we’ll see if it happens.” 

Jackson County Complex

It’s been the question on the lips of Kansas Citians for months: Will there be a new downtown stadium? That question was first pondered more than 60 years ago. A dome stadium, inspired by the recently opened Houston Astrodome, was to be built on the site where the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts stands today. The stadium and connected practice facility was to be shared by Kansas City’s football and baseball teams. Traffic concerns and the inconvenience of two sports with overlapping schedules using the same facility kept the project out of the endzone. 

Liberty Memorial

The iconic tower of the Liberty Memorial was just one of the ideas submitted to the selection committee in 1921 during a nationwide design competition. The entrants all received these instructions: “The object of this competition is to secure to Kansas City a memorial worthy to stand for the record made by her sons in the World War, and to provide the keynote to the ultimate development of the whole site, where it is earnestly hoped there may one day be an art, literary, and music center, the architecture of which shall furnish and adequate setting for the memorial contemplated herein.” 

Fifteen firms, twelve of which were Kansas City-based, submitted entries. The winning design was created by local architect H. Van Buren Magonigle. Others also impressed the judges, including one that created an arch between the memorial site and Signboard Hill, so named because of the many billboards on it. “The designer had fashioned a victory arch over Main Street that connected the two hills,” Stuart said. “So you could walk across the top of the arch to some building that was over on the hill to the east. It would have been very cool.”

You can see the online version of the Kansas City that Never Was exhibit here or visit the exhibit from now through the end of summer, 9:30 AM–4:30 PM, Monday–Friday, on the third floor of the UMKC Miller Nichols Library, 800 E. 51st Street.

All photos courtesy of University of Missouri-Kansas City Special Collections.