How the Rock Island Bridge turns 3 million pounds of steel into KC’s next entertainment hub

WWhen the in-progress Rock Island Bridge opens in 2024, the massive infrastructure renewal project will become Kansas City’s – and America’s – first “destination landmark bridge,” Mike Zeller said.

And the effort specifically takes advantage of one of the metro’s most overlooked assets: its rivers.

Mike Laddin and Mike Zeller, Flying Truss, at Rock Island Bridge, November 2023; Photo by Taylor Wilmore, Startland News

“We may be the largest river city in America that hasn’t really figured out how to embrace our rivers,” he said Zeller, CEO of Flying Truss, which takes the lead Rock Island Bridge Project – a public-private partnership that also leverages philanthropic and corporate funding.

This historic railroad bridge is being reimagined as a gathering place and entertainment center with music, restaurants, cafes, bars, trailheads and more. It is expected to have 35,000 square feet of floor space – all located 40 feet above the Kansas River.

New cantilevers and bulges add significant “land sections” along the bridge’s 702-foot length, making the structure longer than the St. Louis Arch is tall.

“It’s a public crossing, a walking path and also a community space,” Zeller said. “There will be seating for hundreds of people, people can come out here and congregate, similar to Union Station.”

Image courtesy of Flying Truss

Built in 1905 by the Rock Island Railroad The bridge has been out of use for the transport of livestock and goods since the 1970s.

Click Here to learn more about the history of the bridge.

The Rock Island Bridge Project – in the West Bottoms, nearby Hy-Vee Arena – aims to not only reactivate the bridge, but also use the structure as a catalyst for economic development and revitalization along the waterfront, as well as a means of physically connecting Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas.

Rock Island Bridge, November 2023; Photo by Taylor Wilmore, Startland News

A day on the bridge

The redevelopment project is expected to provide the nation’s first entertainment district on a bridge by adding shops and restaurants overlooking the river and connecting a pedestrian path to the Kansas Levee Trail system and the Greenline Trail.

RELATED: Aren’t you excited about these three projects in Downtown KC? “You need to get your pulse checked.”

“What can you do for entertainment? The answer is maybe catfishing on Saturday morning and maybe going to the farmers market on Saturday afternoon or doing something else downstairs on Saturday night while there’s a wedding and live music going on upstairs,” he said Mike Laddin, CFO of Flying Truss.

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