Robert Kipp, Former City Manager and Hallmark Executive, Dies at 89 | KCUR 89.3


Kansas City civic leader and power broker Robert Kipp died on November 30 in Overland Park at the age of 89.

Kipp was one of the most influential city managers in Kansas City history and went on to be a longtime executive at Hallmark.

He led the city hall administration from 1974 to 1983, overseeing a major public building boom, guiding the city through two tough firefighter strikes, and raising Kansas City’s national reputation when he served as president of the International City Management Association for the 1977-78 term.

“He was exceptional in his political skills,” said Charles Wheeler, who was mayor of Kansas City when Kipp was appointed city manager. In an interview with KCUR in July 2019, Wheeler said Kipp had done a great job leading city departments and making council members work well, freeing Wheeler to advance his favorite projects with other civic leaders and the public.

“He and I never had an argument,” Wheeler said of Kipp. “He was running the government and I kind of tried to work with Washington and Jefferson City.”

The Kansas City Symphony released a tribute to Kipp after his death, praising his civic achievements and dedication to the arts and music in Kansas City.

Kansas City enjoyed a golden age of development while Kipp was city manager, with the opening of the Kemper Arena in 1974 and the completion of the initial convention and Bartle Hall exhibition space in 1976. These developments, along with the opening of the Kansas City International Airport in 1972, helped bring the Republican National Convention to Kansas City in 1976.

During the 1970s, the community also saw the development of Worlds of Fun, the Crown Center, and the Truman Sports Complex.

A Kansas City Star article from September 1979 indicated that Kipp’s peers in government regarded him as one of the best city directors in the country. He was also considered one of Kansas City’s most influential leaders, although he told The Star, “I don’t consider myself powerful at all.”

He has endeavored to work behind the scenes and stay out of the spotlight, while forging strong ties with the business world and making all important decisions of municipal government.

“Bob is very close to being the perfect city manager,” City Councilor Harold Hamil told The Star in 1979. “He keeps a low profile and is a master at avoiding getting involved in an issue until he is. ‘he knows what the board is thinking. “

Others said Kipp had the diplomatic knack to persuade board members to come up with his ideas as theirs.

But it was not all smooth sailing. Kipp clashed with the firefighters union in two contentious strikes in 1975 and 1980. He tried, unsuccessfully, to keep the professional basketball franchise, the Kings, in town.

And he was city manager when the city suffered one of its worst disasters, the Hyatt Regency’s catwalk collapse in 1981. Subsequently, Kipp focused on maintaining government while the mayor of the Dick Berkley then ruled the city through investigation and recovery. to treat.

Kipp was still in good standing with city council in 1983, but he was lured that summer to become president of Crown Center Redevelopment Corp., the real estate development arm of Hallmark Cards Inc.

It was his first job in the private sector after 28 years in municipal administration.

“It’s management and there’s always the public service element,” Kipp said at the time.

Donald Hall, then President and CEO of Hallmark who recruited Kipp for the job, said he was excited to find a way to keep Kipp in Kansas City. “As a city manager he was too valuable a community asset to be lost,” Hall said in 1983.

In a 1995 speech on urban development in Kansas City, Kipp frankly spoke about the challenges of managing an 85-acre mixed-use property, combining commercial, residential, office and hotel uses at one time. where the suburbs were booming.

“To strengthen retail, we have moved to an entertainment-focused strategy,” he said, describing the concerts, festivals and attractions needed to maintain the vitality of development as a downtown destination. city.

Civic leaders praised Kipp’s vision for growing the Crown Center and ensuring it remains a strong cultural and commercial hub.

Kipp served as Vice President of Hallmark Cards from 1997 until his retirement in 2006. He also served on the Board of Trustees of the Hall Family Foundation from 1986 to 2018.

In 2000, he was named “Kansas Citizen of the Year” by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, which recognized him for his service to countless city councils, including as chamber president. and the municipal council.

A December 2000 article in Kansas City Business, a chamber publication, praised Kipp for supporting economic development opportunities in the Kansas City area.

Specifically, the article cited Kipp’s foresight in promoting Interstate 35 as a key trade corridor from Mexico to Canada, while he was president of the chamber in 1992, even before the 1994 signing of the ‘North American Free Trade Agreement.

In 1998, Kipp waged a successful campaign to increase sales tax in order to restore the Liberty Memorial, which had been closed in 1994 due to structural flaws and deterioration.

Kipp also devoted his energies to the cultural facilities of Kansas City, serving as chairman of the board of directors of the Starlight Theater Association from 1985 to 1987 and later of the board of directors of the Kansas City Symphony. Other passions included the region’s life science initiatives and early childhood education.

Kipp was born May 21, 1932 in Lincoln, Nebraska, and raised in Lawrence, graduated from Lawrence High School in 1948. He received a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Kansas in 1952, served in the US Air Force and obtained a master’s degree in public administration from KU in 1956.

He married Deborah Graves and is survived by his wife and two sons, Steven and David.

Kipp worked in government in various cities before being hired as development manager for the city of Kansas City in 1970. In 1972 he became deputy city manager under John Taylor, then was promoted to city manager in January 1974 after that Taylor was ousted from it. job.

In 2018, the Hall Family Foundation donated to the KU School of Public Affairs and Administration to establish the Robert Kipp Professorship of Practice in City Management. The donation was made in honor of Kipp’s life in public service and his leadership in urban development and civic affairs.


Comments are closed.