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Downtown Rings out 2018 with Surge in Apartments and Hotel Rooms, Promise of New Office

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6 minute read

By Kevin Collison

Downtown Kansas City ends 2018 on a strong note with new apartment and hotel projects seemingly announced every other week and finally, after much talk, a couple of significant office developments, notably a 25-story project planned for the Power & Light District.

It also saw a growing street scene of new retailers, micro-breweries and restaurants.

In particular, the East Crossroads and Delaware Street in the River Market are emerging as the kind of fun, walkable districts that make the city a much more vibrant and appealing place.

There are warning signs heading into the new year though.

As apartment rents rachet up closer to levels long experienced in places like Minneapolis and Denver, the call for more affordable housing is prompting City Hall to become proactive in encouraging–or forcing–developers to set aside part of their projects to meet that need.

It’s an important conversation to have, but it also has been accompanied by exaggerated fears among some people of gentrification and a growing backlash about the use of tax incentives in general to help revitalize greater downtown.

All political fodder for the upcoming mayoral election.

Construction is underway on a nine-story research tower at Children’s Mercy Hospital’s downtown campus.

It’s important to remember that a healthy, growing greater downtown is not only critical if Kansas City is to compete nationally with places like Nashville and Austin, but it’s also a major source of accessible jobs for people living in nearby East and West Side neighborhoods.

A prime example is the huge investments underway in the Hospital Hill medical complex which are providing both good jobs and stimulating new residential investment along Troost Avenue.

It’s not a case of downtown vs the East Side as some people would like to frame it.

So here’s a list of notable greater downtown news from the year gone by as covered by CityScene KC in its first full year of operation:

-Jan. 4: Plan announced for a bookstore and cafe at 304 Delaware called Our Daily Nada, opens in August. Kicks off a big year of new businesses opening along a historic stretch of Delaware Street in the River Market.
-Jan. 15: Children’s Mercy begins work on a 9-story research building following a record $150 million in donations. Hospital Hill continues to grow as major job source and development trigger for nearby Troost Avenue.
-Jan. 18: City warns of looming affordable housing crunch downtown as tax credits begin to expire on previous affordable housing projects, number of units could decline from 2,759 to 1,140 units over next five years.
-Jan. 19: Corrigan Station annonces $11 million office expansion at the northeast corner of 19th and Main.
-Jan. 24: Milhaus buys about two blocks in East Crossroads at 19th and Oak for apartment project, first major construction in area. By year’s end, planning well underway for a 338-unit, $72 million project.

The UMKC Conservatory originally was proposed for a site at 17th and Broadway across from the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

-Jan. 25: Plans for a new UMKC Downtown Conservatory across from the Kauffman Center are dealt a mortal blow when the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation withdraws its $20 million pledge. In September, UMKC makes it official when it decides to no longer pursue a downtown location for the facility.
-Feb. 6: Casual Animal opens a brew pub at 1725 McGee, the latest addition to the growing “neigh-brew-hood” of micro-breweries in the East Crossroads.
-Feb. 22: Crossroads Academy, downtown’s K-12 charter school, finds a new home for its high school in the historic Thayer Building at 816 Broadway. Classes began in August.
-March 2: A groundbreaking ceremony is held for the 24-story Loews Kansas City Convention Hotel at 17th and Wyandotte. The $322.7 million project is expected to open in late April 2020.
-March 5: An ambitious proposal to deck the South Loop with a park comes back with a cost estimate of $139 million, $60 million less than previously estimated. By year’s end, discussion were continuing.
-March 8: Tribe, a restaurant featuring street food from around the world, opens at 316 Delaware, part of a wave of new places opening along in that historic River Market street.
March 12: Mildred’s, the venerable Crossroads cafe, announces its expanding into new space across the street at 1901 Wyandotte.
-March 14: Construction kicks off on a 232-unit apartment project called The Yard in the West Bottoms, first major new construction in that area.
-March 19: Plans announced for Parlor at 1707 Locust in the East Crossroads, part of a national food hall trend.

David Friesen decorated the new Betty Rae’s Ice Cream in the River Market with some of his vintage, ice cream-themed album covers. (Photo by Kate Collison)

-April 17: Betty Rae’s ice cream announces it plans to join the River Market cafe scene on Delaware. It opens its second outlet at 412 Delaware in August.
-May 4: Two Light, a 296-unit luxury apartment project opens in the Power & Light District.
-May 9: Developers say a plan to renovate the historic Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City building at 925 Grand into a 321-room Embassy Suites hotel is still on track with a mid-2020 opening envisioned.
-May 18: MAC Properties proposes a $78 million redevelopment plan for the four corners of Armour and Troost that would add 450 apartments, part of an wave of new investment along Troost after decades of neglect.
-May 19: The Buck O’Neil Bridge closes its southbound lane for a six-month repair job. Bigger news, a new replacement bridge with a vastly improved connection to I-35 is in the works with an expected completion in 2023.
-May 22: The Crossroads building housing YJ’s Snack Bar is sold, a milestone moment in the evolution of the area. YJ’s owner, artist and entrepreneur David Ford, later finds a new home for the cafe at 128 W. 18th St.
-May 24: Plans for Three Light, a 300-unit luxury apartment project in the Power & Light District, are approved after heated debate at City Hall over city tax incentives for the project; as part of the deal, the Cordish Co. promises to renovate the historic Midland Building into affordable housing units.

The Platform Ventures redevelopment plan includes an office building and garage at the northeast corner of 13th and Wyandotte . (Image from Hoefer Wysocki)

-May 29: Platform Ventures reveals a $132.5 million plan to redevelop the block east of Barney Allis Plaza with a 100,000 square-foot office building and garage, and renovating the historic Kansas City Club into a 144-room hotel and the upper floors of the historic Muehlbach Hotel into 190 apartments.
-June 1: Church of the Resurrection opens a new church at 1601 Grand, the first new church to be built downtown in more than a century.
-June 20: Plans to extend the streetcar from downtown to UMKC along Main Street advance when voters living in the Transportation Development District approve local funding. By year’s end, the Streetcar Authority was awaiting word on its application for $151.6 million in federal funding for the project.
-June 22: The 221-unit Crossroads Westside apartment project opens between the Broadway and I-35 viaducts.
-June 22: Copaken Brooks announces a plan for a 14-story, $40 million apartment tower with 132 units at 18th and Walnut streets.
-June 27: The 410-unit Union apartment project opens near Berkley Riverfront Park, the first new development along the riverfront since cleanup began in the 1970s.
June 29: The Downtown Community Improvement District, whose workers in their black and yellow uniforms are a familiar downtown feature, is renewed through 2034.
-July 1: The first Bird electric scooters arrive downtown.
-July 2: Former Mayor Kay Barnes, a major force in revitalizing downtown in the early 2000s, is recognized by having the Grand Ballroom at the Convention Center named after her.
-July 18: The 120-room 21c Museum Hotel opens in the historic Savoy Hotel and Grill following a $47.5 million renovation.
-July 25: Plans are announced for a 13-story, 153-room Hyatt House Hotel at Ninth and Broadway.

A food hall, boutique grocer and office complex along 18th Street is planned along with renovation of the historic Star building. (Image from 3D Development)

-July 26: Developer Vincent Bryant reveals his $95 million plan to renovate the historic Kansas City Star building into an office and data center project, the plan also includes a 500-space underground garage and new food pavilion. Earlier in the month, Kansas City Star employees leave their century-old home for new digs across McGee Street in the production building.
-Aug. 19: Bar K, a dog park, bar and cafe, opens along the riverfront near the Union apartments.
-Aug. 22: Longtime downtown retailer Bob Jones Shoes announces its closing at 1914 Grand.
-Aug. 29: Work begins on a $16 million, 92-room LaQuinta Hotel at 24th and Troost.
-Sept. 12: An ultra-luxury, 145-room hotel is proposed across from the Kauffman Center on Wyandotte; it faces a tough reception in its request for tax incentives in the new year.
-Sept. 14: The $76.8 million City Club Apartment project at 20th and Main breaks ground after several years of planning, the 283-unit development includes the renovation of the historic Midwest Hotel.
-Sept. 28: Afterword Tavern, a new bookstore and cafe, opens at 19th and Grand.
-Oct. 8: Hy-Vee Arena opens in West Bottoms following a $39 million renovation of the former Kemper Arena into an amateur sports center that includes a dozen basketball courts and 350-meter indoor track.                                                                                          -Oct. 17: The 131-room Crossroads Hotel opens at 2101 Central, a post-industrial chic renovation of a former bottling plant and warehouse in the historic Pabst and Pendergast buildings.
-Oct. 23: Drury Hotels drops a plan to build a $50 million, 242-unit hotel on the site of the vacant Board of Eduction building, saying the incentive package offered by the city was not enough to make the project financially viable.
-Nov. 12: The historic Traders National Bank at 1125 Grand reopens following a $65 million renovation into a 201-unit luxury apartment project called The Grand.

Afterword Tavern and Shelves features a custom-built bar and small bookstore.

-Nov. 19: A groundbreaking is held for the $35 million renovation of the historic Lyric Theater into a new, 62,000 square-foot Downtown YMCA that will include a swimming pool, indoor track fitness center and other health-related services. It’s expected to open in Spring 2021.
-Nov. 29: Plans are announced to renovate the historic 23-story Mark Twain Tower building at 11th and Baltimore into a 202-unit apartment project at cost of $51.9 million.
-Dec. 13: A 25-story office project called Strata is proposed for the Power & Light District at 13th and Main. The $132 million spec office building is intended to help downtown attract more private jobs.
-Dec. 19: A plan to build a $40 million, 248-unit apartment project at 25th and Troost is announced, bringing the number of new apartments in the works along a several block stretch of Troost to almost 1,000.
-Dec. 24: Thou Mayest, the popular East Crossroads coffee house and tavern, closes after operating four years at 419 E. 18th St. Its owners plan to find a new downtown location in the new year.

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