Raytown Resistance

Raytown, Mo., is a small suburb of Kansas City that has been trying to revitalize its downtown for years. Raytown is just one of a number of small cities trying to draw people back by kicking out the residents they already have. Although the city owns property it can develop to begin revitalization, overly ambitious city officials, despite the withdrawal of two developers, insist on creating a massive redevelopment while the property they already own becomes blighted.

In 2001, the city bought the First Baptist Church and surrounding property after the congregation moved to another location. Residents thought that the town would use the purchase to spur development. The church property remains vacant as city officials, even after the withdrawal of two developers, keep trying to create a massive redevelopment project while letting the church property they already own become blighted.

Pat Casady, owner of C & C Industrial Armature, received a letter from city officials in 2004 that indicated that his 30-year-old business property would be appraised for condemnation—even though officials explicitly assured him that eminent domain would not be considered. The city planned to take every property on the block, including the 60-year-old Fox Drugstore. Since then, Casady, with a handful of other business owners located in downtown Raytown, have been fighting to keep their businesses.

“They want to make money for the town, and I can understand that,” said Casady. “I’m not against revitalization—I love this place, or else I wouldn’t be here—but I won’t have my property stolen from me.”[1]

The city’s first developer withdrew in 2004 after it could not find tenants that would anchor the project.[2] A second developer withdrew in December 2006 after deciding that the project was not worthwhile, underscoring the notion that redevelopment—especially where eminent domain is used—is not a guaranteed success.[3]

Casady says both developers made offers that grossly undervalued his property, and that when he and fellow business owners tried to talk with city officials, the officials were unwilling to listen to their concerns. While dealing with the first developer, Casady admits he was not sure what exactly he was doing, but when a second developer became involved, Casady started researching. That research led him to the Castle Coalition and to the Eminent Domain Abuse Survival Guide, which proved to be indispensable to his fight.

The second time around, Casady brought together his neighboring business owners, telling them that it was important to band together. “I told them, ‘We’ve got to get together so they don’t run us over one at a time,” recollected Casady. “They were going to take advantage of the weakest link and then go after all of us one by one.”

While examining the Missouri Constitution, Casady discovered that certain small cities cannot use eminent domain for economic development. Using that research, he wrote a series of letters to the editor and contacted local news media, announcing his findings. Although most of the coverage was neutral, Casady was able to go on the radio and TV to make his case, raising awareness in the community about the eminent domain threat.

“It was a day to day deal,” said Casady. “I flunked Seventh Grade and hated school, but when this happened, I was going to make sure I knew what was what.”

For Casady and his neighboring business owners, things are still up in the air—Raytown officials are looking for yet another developer. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Casady. “We can’t sell, we can’t make improvements because there would be no point if the city will just kick us out…we’re in limbo.”

Raytown officials have shifted their focus to the city’s other plan, which calls for a Wal-Mart Supercenter along the Missouri 350 corridor. Casady plans on distributing Survival Guides to property owners there to make sure they are not taken advantage of, as the city tried to do with him. For now, however, the possibility of eminent domain still lingers.

[1] All quotes from an interview conducted by Chris Grodecki on February 1, 2008.

[2] Bill Bell, Jr., “Raytown drops site developer; Dial Realty loses exclusive status in downtown area,” The Kansas City Star, November 17, 2004.

[3] Russ Pulley, “Raytown shifts gears downtown,” The Kansas City Star, December 13, 2008.