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East Village Chosen for ULI International Student Design Competition

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3 minute read

By Kevin Collison

The East Village, the biggest undeveloped tract inside the Downtown Loop, is the testing ground for hundreds of graduate students from around the world competing in this year’s ULI/Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition.

The Urban Land Institute, the nation’s premier land planning and development association, selected Kansas City for the competition. Eighteen U.S and Canadian cities have hosted Hines students since the competition began in 2003; last year was Miami.

“Kansas City’s downtown has experienced significant growth in the past decade, and fresh thinking for the East Village neighborhood would help continue this trend in a sustainable manner,” Michael Collins, chair of ULI Kansas City, said in a release.

In choosing the eight-block East Village area, roughly from Eighth to 12th streets between Cherry and Charlotte, as the subject for the ULI competition, the grad students are tackling one of the thornier redevelopment sites in downtown.

A ULI aerial video of the site can be seen here.

J.E. Dunn opened its headquarters in 2009 in the East Village redevelopment area.

It’s been designated formally by the city as a redevelopment zone since 2005.

That designation occurred after an effort to relocate the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City to the east side of Ilus W. Davis Park as part of an envisioned Government District failed in part because not enough land had been assembled.

The KC Fed wound up building its headquarters on the south edge of Penn Valley Park and moved there in 2008.

The challenge of having land ready for big projects prompted city officials to designate the East Village as a redevelopment site and begin acquiring and demolishing properties, including the old Greyhound Bus Depot at 12th and Holmes.

But except for the opening of the J.E. Dunn Construction headquarters at 11th and Locust in 2009, little has development has occurred and the property remains mostly fields and parking lots.

Swope Community Builders, the original East Village developer designated by the city, completed a 50-unit apartment project in 2011. Last summer, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority opened a transit center at 12th and Charlotte.

VanTrust Real Estate has assembled about 85 percent of the properties in the East Village, shown in blue. (Map from ULI)

The original concept advanced by Swope called for the East Village to be developed as a mixed-use project with 1,200 housing units, office space and some retail.

In 2017, VanTrust Real Estate was granted the development rights. Since then, the firm has been acquiring the remaining properties in the redevelopment area and now controls about 85 percent of the land.

Recently, the East Village also has surfaced as a potential location for a downtown ballpark should the Royals decide to leave Kauffman Stadium when its lease expires in 2030.

The ULI/Hines competition mentions that a ballpark has been suggested for the area in its briefing to students, but its primary instructions are to plan a mixed-use development for the property.

“In the first round, students will propose how to create a thriving, mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood in the East Village neighborhood of Kansas City,” according to the release.

Students are also being told the design must include affordable housing dispersed throughout the project.

“A minimum of 10 percent of new residential product, both for sale and rental, must be units affordable for low- to moderate-income households,” according to the ULI competition instructions.

The new $5 million East Village Transit Center opened for RideKC bus and MAX last summer.

The competition doesn’t require anything to be ultimately built based on the entries and entrants are judged based on their ideas.

Rich Muller, senior vice president of VanTrust Real Estate, said his firm welcomes the ULI competition.

“I’ve long appreciated the ULI for its cerebral approach to land use and land use policy,” he said. “It’s an honor to have the graduate students look at the development potential of the East Village.

“I don’t know if there’s any expectation that anything will get built, but the more minds the better. I’m excited to see the work product that’s produced.”

This year’s competition features 110 teams representing 62 universities in the United States, Canada, and Singapore, according to the release.

The team with the winning proposal will receive $50,000, of which $5,000 goes to the university or universities the team represents. Each of the remaining three finalist teams will receive $10,000.

Student proposals are due January 25, and a jury of ULI members who are experts in real estate, land use, and design will select four finalist teams by late February.

“We look forward to seeing the submissions and creativity that the students bring to the site,” Collins said in his statement.

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