By Tracy Allen
CALL Staff Writer
Eight months in and hundreds of conversations with locals, even Ronnie Burt believes in Kansas City and its potential to draw a new found love for those to the Midwestern city.
There may be those who think Kansas City has less to offer when it comes to being progressive among other cities of like size. Not Burt. It’s the reason why he left New Jersey, and instead, accepted the responsibility of presenting an exciting, vibrant metropolitan area of 2.4 million people by Burt becoming the CEO of VisitKC, formerly known as the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Bureau. The former vice president of sales and services for Destination D.C., Burt has history in Kansas City. Still, in eight months he has seen plenty enough to know that the area is rich in far more than its jazz and barbecue.
In a conversation with THE CALL recently, Burt talked about the rising enthusiasm the Kansas City area has presented, not only to its residents but also, what could continue to make it a city that sees just as much potential as similar size communities around the country.
THE CALL: You knew a little about Kansas City before you even came here. What is it like being in the Midwest and what it is like selling Kansas City not only to Kansas City but to the outside?
Ronnie Burt: I’ve had the opportunity to live all around the country. I don’t know if you can call Indianapolis Midwest but coming from the East Coast, I guess you can say it is Midwestern city.
I was familiar with the Midwest hospitality and I’ve lived here when I was in fourth grade (he once lived at the 5200 block of The Paseo). I come back and visit in the summers. Have family in the area. At that time, had a uncle who was living in Grandview and another uncle who lived up the corner at Lydia. Many of the summers I played football up there, in the grass, up near the Rockhurst campus and many times getting run up out of there (smile).
For me, the most thing you’ll noticed in the Midwest is that people are genuinely nice. I grew up in New Jersey, on the East Coast, and people are genuinely nice. Being here in the Midwest and being here in Kansas City for the eight months, navigating the city I’ve discovered people just don’t know about Kansas City. And that is what we’re trying to do with our marketing message is change how we go out and position the city because it has a lot of cosmopolitan amenities but people have perceptions of Kansas City. And they don’t see it that say.
Yes, we are rich in history. Yes, we are rich in jazz. Yes, we’re rich in barbecue. But I think there is a lot of other things. The cultural activities. The museums. The independent restaurants. The entertainment beyond jazz. For me, those type of things that is rewarding to see.”
The messaging I like to say is finding your experience in Kansas City because people like different things. There is something here for everybody.
THE CALL: You’ve lived here so you knew what Kansas City was all about. Growing up in New Jersey did you ever sense that one day you would come back to Kansas City as a place to work, a place to represent to people outside.
Burt: I did not. If you would have asked me two years ago that I would be the president and CEO of VisitKC, it wasn’t something on my radar. To me the attractive side is I’ve lived in different places, New Jersey, Baltimore, Atlanta, (Washington) D.C., Indianapolis. Every job I’ve had I didn’t apply for. It was a job that I was recruited. . . When I came to visit to (K.C.) in that recruitment, it was the things that I saw happening that made me excited about Kansas City. The investment that is being made in downtown. I was seeing the dollars that were invested in the community that is what I’m selling.
THE CALL: You’ve mentioned about jazz, you mention barbecue. And obviously we know the history about black baseball. Did you feel Kansas City stuck in that mode focusing on those three and not bring out the other aspects of the metro area.
Burt: I never liked to look at the past and say they were “stuck”. It was the messaging that was working for Kansas City. Me coming in with a different perspective, and living in the cities, it was about going about selling the city differently. An analogy would be everybody thinks everybody wants to go to Washington. Well, that isn’t true. And the perception people have about Washington is what they see on CNN. And the fact they cover the Capitol and the White House. But there is a vibrant community outside the Capitol and the White House. There are neighborhoods and communities. That is the way I look at Kansas City. We have a lot more to offer than just the barbecuing messaging, the jazz messaging.
If you look at the cultural experiences, the rich entertainment side of things. Obviously things in the 18th and Vine community, Alvin Ailey. But there are museums whether it be the World War I museum, the Kemper Museum, great shopping at Plaza and Crown center, and kid’s museum. There are a variety of things to do.
. . . When I look at the region, I don’t get stuck on “sides”. This side or that side. Missouri or Kansas. I just navigate the city and see that this is as a metropolitan area that has many things around it. . . This is a region and there are a wealth of things to do in a region. So we have to do a better job with that and our messaging is shifting all the amenities people have.
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