‘First of its kind’ entertainment district to open on KCK bridge this summer: New details

‘First of its kind’ entertainment district to open on KCK bridge this summer: New details

Is it a public park? Kind of, but don’t come expecting to sit on grass or lounge under a tree.

So it’s an entertainment district? Not quite — there’s no admission fee, and the structure itself is owned by the city of Kansas City, Kansas.

Could you call it a food court? Sure, if you count one permanent kitchen serving “elevated street food” alongside a rotating selection of guest vendors, like food trucks and beverage carts.

An event space? Yes, to varying degrees. Private organizations can rent out the upper-level venue or spring for the whole space, closing it off to the public for weddings, corporate events and more.

This is the Rock Island Bridge: a reinforced, revamped railroad bridge spanning the Kansas River between the West Bottoms and Kansas City, Kansas. The finished project will suspend two stories of seating, restrooms, bars and businesses over water, a stone’s throw from Hy-Vee Arena.

A rendering shows what developers plan for the new Rock Island Bridge development project spanning the Kansas River. The bridge is expected to open to the public in the summer of 2024.A rendering shows what developers plan for the new Rock Island Bridge development project spanning the Kansas River. The bridge is expected to open to the public in the summer of 2024.

A rendering shows what developers plan for the new Rock Island Bridge development project spanning the Kansas River. The bridge is expected to open to the public in the summer of 2024.

“There’s just nothing like it,” said Michael Zeller, the CEO of Flying Truss LLC, the development company spearheading the bridge project. “It’s the first of its kind in the world.”

What he means is this: Few other cities have chosen to construct entertainment districts on existing abandoned infrastructure, and none have opted to do so over water. The project also presents an unusual marriage between public land and private development. But Zeller is confident that the unique space will draw guests from near and far when it opens in late June.

“We’re going to do a rolling open this summer,” Zeller said. “We don’t want 10,000 or 20,000 people to show up at the same time… this first in the world might generate more traffic, at first, than we can safely accommodate.”

When will Rock Island Bridge officially open?

The Rock Island Bridge is scheduled to have a “rolling open” this summer, with free timed tickets welcoming visitors starting in late June and early July, Zeller said. Once the anticipated rush of initial interest dies down, no tickets will be required.

The timeline for the bridge’s construction has shifted back several months from the March opening date advertised in early 2023. Zeller says that’s due to safety improvements requested by the city of Kansas City, Kansas.

As part of the extensive remodel, crews elevated the bridge’s bottom deck by 4 feet, raising it out of any potential flooding zone. In the event of extreme rain, the Kansas River would now overflow its levees on either side before it brushes the bottom of the bridge.

This safety measure, Zeller said, accounts for the extended construction timeline. The bridge’s website also attributed the delay to waiting for additional bracing materials to arrive after the upper-deck floor plan required changes.

Project spokesperson Heather Silliman told The Star that workers are pouring concrete this week.

What attractions can guests expect on Rock Island Bridge?

On first level, around 700 feet long, visitors will find seating, restrooms, water fountains, a large restaurant-style area with food and alcohol for sale, a smattering of portable vendors, and some shops selling merchandise and other items.

The upper level is a private event space with a 50-foot bar, a performance stage and retractable ceilings with built-in heaters for the colder months.

A digital rending shows the proposed layout of the Rock Island Bridge development spanning the Kansas River between the West Bottoms and Kansas City, Kansas. The bridge is expected to open to the public in the summer of 2024.A digital rending shows the proposed layout of the Rock Island Bridge development spanning the Kansas River between the West Bottoms and Kansas City, Kansas. The bridge is expected to open to the public in the summer of 2024.

A digital rending shows the proposed layout of the Rock Island Bridge development spanning the Kansas River between the West Bottoms and Kansas City, Kansas. The bridge is expected to open to the public in the summer of 2024.

Zeller said that the project already has around 180 inquiries about booking the upper deck for events, and that weekends are starting to fill up for the bridge’s first months in business. A local school is even considering holding its prom on the upper deck.

The Rock Island Bridge will be open seven days a week, but it will close overnight and for private events. It will also close down operations in January and February to avoid Kansas City’s frigid winter temperatures.

Anyone can wander through the “pedestrian crossing,” a narrow pathway on the north side of the lower level. Cyclists will be asked to dismount their bikes, but can roll them across the bridge between the bike paths on either side of the river. The bridge will also be staffed with private security.

Bridge developers have no shortage of ideas for what the space could be used for — from farmer’s markets to outdoor yoga classes to a Christmas market throughout December in the enclosed upper level space. These events, along with details like menus and their pricing, are still in the works.

Do you have more questions about Rock Island Bridge or other developments in Kansas City? Ask the Service Journalism team at [email protected].

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