Public, private, philanthropic and corporate leaders and investors gather 40-feet above the Kansas River to celebrate transforming an abandoned 1905 railroad bridge into a trailhead and entertainment district
KANSAS CITY, KAN., – On May 16, 2023, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly joined Kansas City, Kansas Mayor/CEO Tyrone Garner; Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce President Joe Reardon; Kansas City, Kansas Chamber of Commerce President Daniel Silva; Flying Truss Founder, Michael Zeller; and other public, private, philanthropic and corporate leaders and investors on the deck of the world’s first “destination landmark bridge,” the Rock Island Bridge. Ceremonial golden spikes were driven into a railroad tie by representatives of five sectors, which have come together to make this $12 million bridge transformation project a reality:
- Mayor Garner (Local government)
- David Brain (Private investor)
- Shirley Helzberg (Philanthropic)
- Michael Abrams (Corporate)
- Governor Kelly (State government)
Envisioned originally by Flying Truss Founder, Michael Zeller as “a steel park over a river with some really nice amenities,” Rock Island Bridge is now a world’s first, the first trailhead over a river, the first full-on bridge entertainment district with a commercial kitchen, coffee shops, bars, and event venues, the first project to treat a bridge as land, and the first for-profit project invited to join the High Line Network, a community of nonprofit infrastructure reuse projects.
“Going first is never easy,” Zeller said, “But thankfully, this is a city and a state that has vision, and a big heart. You might have heard the term ‘P3’ used to describe public/private partnerships. Well, converting a historic railroad bridge over a river into a trailhead and full-on entertainment district, which was initially owned by a city in another state, in the midst of a levee raise and a raging pandemic took a ‘P5’, a public, private, philanthropic, and pretty-great corporate partnership to pull off.”
Along with being many firsts, Rock Island Bridge is also a community connectivity project. The Bridge, under Kansas City, Kan., ownership since 2022, will connect an emerging network of 17 miles of levee trails and activate the new Kansas Waterfront for recreation and economic development through this unique public/private/corporate/philanthropic partnership.
In her keynote address, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly said, “When folks visit Rock Island Bridge, they will see a fitting addition to the architecture and design aesthetic of greater Kansas City, a structure that pulls historical threads into a modern and contemporary space and provides a fitting introduction to the Kansas we know and love. We are a state of big views, big skies, rivers and recreation. We are also a state of commerce, transportation and business. Rock Island Bridge brings all of this together, weaving history with the present and the future in a fitting tribute to where we’ve been and where we’re heading in Kansas.”
For nearly a century, the Rock Island Railroad played a central role in the Kansas City Stockyards District, which ran along both sides of the Kansas (Kaw) River, and was the second-largest beef processing center in the world. The Railroad’s initial bridge was swept away in the flood of 1901.
The Railroad hired the American Bridge Company to design and build two 302 feet-long, Pennsylvania trusses and concrete foundations forty feet into the riverbed. The new bridge began service in 1905.
After the Flood of ’51, the US Army Corps hired L. G. Barcus Company, based in Kansas City, Kan., to install screw-lift gates capable of raising the three trusses six feet in advance of high waters. Barcus is now back on the job, using the same mechanisms to lift the bridge to its new permanent location above the height of the new levees, and installing the new steel and concrete decks and railings.
“We are standing near the center of what was once the world’s second-largest stockyards district. This bridge is historical, and they’ll never build one like it again, explained Kansas City, Kansas Mayor/CEO Tyrone Garner. “And today, we start the process of rebranding the lower Kansas River from that of a 19th century industrial river to a 21st Century recreational river, a ‘riparian parkway’ that enriches our people’s lives with nature, recreation, and commerce along its banks.”
Filling in for Kansas Lt. Governor & Secretary of Commerce, David Toland, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce President Joe Reardon said, “We all know that great cities have authentic and remarkable destinations that say something about who they are and where they came from. This historic Stockyards Bridge, in the heart of our metro just feet from the state line, will no doubt become one of those remarkable places that say, ‘I am in Kansas City!’ This is where we’ll come together to celebrate our victories large and small. It’s going to look great on those aerial shots during Monday Night Football. And, can you imagine a better place to pack in with people from around the world for World Cup 2026?”
While the Golden Spike ceremony served as the official project kick off, in March, L. G. Barcus Company began removing the old ties and 1,400 feet of rails, lifting the bridge, and then placing some 400 tons of steel and even more concrete to create a new platform across the river. To make it wider in places, heavy steel beams will cantilever out an additional 12 feet from the sides of the bridge, and there is a double-decker platform above the middle of the river. Centric will take over construction in late summer 2023, building the structures and finishes.
Rock Island Bridge’s “Light the Bridge” campaign kicked off during the ceremony. Those interested in helping light the bridge to illuminate a Kansas City icon for generations to come are invited to donate. Three donation levels are available, including Bridge Builder ($10,000), River Keeper ($2,500) and Trail Maker ($250), each offering a variety of special donors-only benefits and invitations, such as priority booking of the Top Deck even space, memorializing a family or corporate name on a steel plaque permanently affixed to the Bridge, Founders events and suppers, and a limited-edition steel “rail slice” from the 1905 Rock Island Railroad Bridge.
Rock Island Bridge’s grand opening is slated for summer 2024.
Narrated Tour of Rock Island Bridge Available Here
For more information:
Available for Interview:
- Michael Zeller, Founder & CEO – Flying Truss LLC
- David Brain, Lead Investor and Subject Matter Expert