And we’re not done yet. Not even close. But to know where you’re going, you have to understand where you’ve been.
The Chamber – A Part of Greater Kansas City’s History
It was the first meeting of the “Commercial Club,” a small group of businessmen determined, as businessman Frank Faxon put it that night, “to make Kansas City a good place to live in.” The minutes from that first meeting – written in spidery 1800s penmanship - are still in our archives.
It was the middle of July in Kansas City, so we can figure it was probably hot and humid. The year was 1887, ten days following annual Independence Day celebrations.
The men met at the Brunswick Hotel, making their way along warped wooden sidewalks, dodging mudholes, and carrying lanterns to light their way back home. They knew what good could come of collaboration – they’d seen it in action twenty years before as civic and business leaders worked to build the first railroad bridge across the Missouri River; losing towns along the river might have said those leaders conspired.
In its first century, the Commercial Club supported the City Beautiful Movement, resulting in the parks, boulevards, and fountains so carefully placed throughout the city and its suburbs today. In 1900, when the city’s brand new convention hall burned down 90 days before the Democratic Party was to hold its national convention there, the business and civic community collaborated with others to get a new hall built. The convention opened on time.
Changing Times and a Change of Names
In 1916, the Commercial Club changed its name to the Chamber of Commerce. In 1972, as the suburbs grew and businesses from beyond the KCMO city limits joined, the name was changed to the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Over the years, the Chamber and its thousands of members have weathered recessions and depressions; we’ve dealt with floods, fires, and tornadoes. Played our part in hot wars and cold. Struggled with a sometimes contentious state line.
But since that hot July day in 1887, Chamber members have also created hundreds of thousands of new businesses – and the jobs that go with them. They brought innovative ideas into the marketplace. And they set an example, with entrepreneurs like Ewing Kauffman, Joyce Hall, Herman A. Johnson, and the Bloch brothers making sure to pass their knowledge and treasure onto others.
The Chamber & Union Station
History can often take an interesting turn. In the early 1900s, business leaders agreed to build a new rail station south of downtown – bigger and better, and above the floodwaters that plagued the original West Bottoms site. The Chamber of Commerce supported that venture, and was there – along with a crowd of 100,000 – when Union Station opened in 1916.
In the 1990s, Union Station’s proud history seemed to be over. It lay closed, in disrepair and near ruin. In 1996, the Chamber led the successful bi-state campaign to renovate Union Station, saving it from the wrecking ball (and the pigeons). Voters on both sides of the state line made history, agreeing to tax themselves 1/8 cent to save the iconic structure.
Here’s the ‘interesting turn’ - the Chamber chose Union Station as its new home and moved in at the end of 2010. The organization that works for regional collaboration moved into the building that best symbolizes it. Our move was followed by other business and civic organizations becoming tenants as well, and now Union Station is consistently at or near full occupancy, which only adds to the vibrancy of this regional asset for future generations to enjoy.
Read more about our home in Union Station.