From a shady porch rimmed with flowers on East 43rd Street, Delores Johnson looked down the block at a boarded-up structure and said, "That's supposed to be a house."
It once was, but for years it has looked more like an abandoned machine shed. It's hard to tell exactly what stands there because chest-high weeds surround the place.
Last week, Johnson, of Kansas City's Vineyard Neighborhood Association, learned the city finally was eliminating the eyesore.
And she can thank baseball's All-Star Game for that.
Sped-up demolition of the house on the corner, plus a dozen other vacant buildings around her neighborhood, "most certainly needs to be done, and I'm glad about it," Johnson said.
"But, you know," she wryly added, "this could've been done a long, long time ago -- for the folks who live here. Not because visitors are coming in."
Some of the expected 100,000 visitors next month will be streaming to nearby Cleveland Park, at 43rd and Cleveland Avenue, for youth softball games held by Major League Baseball.
That's not the only area Kansas City is focusing on for blight removal.
Think where the visitors might go.
On Interstate 70 east of downtown, for example, lines of traffic will be snaking into Kauffman Stadium. So, before All-Star Game festivities commence in early July, three vacant and dangerous houses in motorists' view are on the list of rattraps to be razed.
A few miles to the south, near Satchel Paige Stadium off Swope Parkway, several ugly buildings -- some rotting empty for more than a decade -- are coming down, too.
Satchel Paige Stadium is getting a much-needed makeover for the All-Star Game Jr. RBI Classic, a tournament to be held at four community ballparks around the city.
Around the bend, Kim Walton-Rashaw, owner of the Family Affair Beauty Salon, reacted as some of her neighbors did when told why a shabby-looking structure at 3301 Swope Parkway was being eradicated:
"What? The All-Star Game?"
That building near her salon has been shedding paint and attracting trash for "10 years, maybe more..."
"It was Bee's Liquor," Walton-Rashaw said. "It'll be nice to see it come down. Around here, we're struggling business owners. Anything that improves our property values is a good thing."
30 on list
The office of City Manager Troy Schulte is directing the demolition drive, tapping $188,000 from a special fund allocated for All-Star event preparations.
At any given time, about 800 vacated and dangerous properties fill Kansas City's lineup sheet of buildings needing to be fixed up or torn down. In a typical year, the city gets around to razing maybe 120 of them (but, in the same stretch, it adds 130 to the roster).
This month, officials hope about 30 will be leveled and cleared of debris, said David Park, the city's deputy director of Neighborhood and Community Services.
"Yeah," he said, "usually you see a lot of happy people in a neighborhood where we tear down an abandoned building."
Near the Jackson Avenue exit off I-70, the house of your nightmares has needed the All-Star treatment -- that is, removal -- for 15 years, said a longtime backyard neighbor with a pit bull named Shadow.
The two-story building is now in the city's crosshairs, and the neighbor wants to know what took so long.
"I mow my yard every Friday and that place gets mowed maybe once a year," he said. "So now the city wants to pretty itself up for out-of-towners."
The reaction is not so bitter in the Vineyard Neighborhood on East 43rd, where crews last week were shutting off water lines to the houses on the demolition list.
"At least it's getting done," said Leonard Reynolds, playing dominoes in the neighborhood association rec room with fellow resident Andrew Milsap. Each has lived in the area more than 40 years.
Long-vacant buildings aren't just eyesores to people who live near them.
They attract vagrants and drug dealers. Litter thrown from passing cars can sit for months, hidden by brush.
At intersections, overgrown lots will block a driver's view of cross traffic. And the worst fear of neighbors is the danger that broken houses pose to curious children.
"We just haven't had a strong enough wind to take down some of these places," Johnson joked.
Let baseball's midsummer classic do it.
All-Star events and the national spotlight they attract have provided an incentive for stepping up the pace on improvement projects long in the making.
The $7 million renovation of Penn Valley Park will almost be finished when the crowds arrive. But the east edge of the park, bordering Main Street north of 27th Street, isn't looking so good.
Crews a month ago sprayed a green "hydro-mulch" mixture to produce grass on a hillside cleared of brush. The scarcity of rain since then has stalled the sprouting of seeds in the mulch. The green overlay has devolved into some otherworldly fuzz the color of cork.
Project manager Jimmi Lossing said grass shoots have just begun to poke through and, with enough rain, the Penn Valley bluff should look fine by July.
Elsewhere around town:
- Sidewalks in the vicinity of the J.C. Nichols fountain near the Country Club Plaza are getting repaired -- a need recognized by park officials years ago. The project received a donation from the Mill Creek Fitness Trail Association.
"Sure, a lot of people here for the All-Star Game will be taking pictures at the Nichols fountain. But that new concrete (on the sidewalks) will be there another 15 years," said parks and recreation deputy director Steve Lampone.
"These improvements not only serve a purpose in the time frame of the All-Star Game," he said.
- City Council member Scott Taylor is pitching a couple of ideas for sprucing up, including a sweep of junky signs planted on city rights of way.
Twice in recent months, city crews have teamed for a day to pluck out promotional signs from easements and utility poles -- more than 7,000 signs in all.
On Thursday, Taylor plans to hold a press conference to encourage surrounding communities to launch touch-up projects of their own. Several locales have expressed a desire to join the effort.
"Without the All-Star Game, I think it would be more difficult to get all these communities on both sides of the state line to rally around a single idea," he said.
How about a "Pothole Palooza?" That's the term Washington, D.C., applies to its blitz in May to fill as many potholes as city workers can get to, Taylor said.
- Major League Baseball and the Royals' Legacy Fund are helping pay for substantial improvements at local ball fields where youngsters from around the country will compete in the Jr. RBI Classic. (RBI in this case stands for Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities, a feature at All-Star cities since 2009.)
Truckloads of fine, pinkish sand arrived last week at Cleveland Park for spreading on the infields. Landscapers planted redbuds and whitebuds. Even the red, white and blue snapping from the flagpole looked crisply new.
Other venues dressing up for the youth tournament include the Rockhurst University softball field and the Clark-Ketterman Athletic Complex.
And near each, the city has targeted abandoned buildings for demolition.
A house near Rockhurst has been a scar on the otherwise attractive 5100 block of Lydia Avenue for as long as Louise Harston has lived in the neighborhood.
That would be 24 years.
Harston suspected something was about to change across from her home when she recently saw an asbestos-removal crew come and go.
Last week she learned what brought them there.
"Now I understand," she said. "Uh-huh. The All-Star Game...
"But it's still good news," Harston said, dropping her garden trowel to begin a march up the sidewalk. "I can't wait to tell the neighbors."