West Bottoms developers say embracing the neighborhood’s historic past is key.
A new chapter for Kansas City’s West Bottoms is underway, promising to reinvigorate the historic neighborhood, however not everyone is keen on the proposed plans.
SomeraRoad Development Company has begun a large-scale transformation of Kansas City’s West Bottoms area with the renovation of a historic firehouse. The company plans to use the 1928 firehouse as ground zero for the area’s future development.
Some longtime residents and business owners are worried the neighborhood they love will change for the worse and they will be pushed out.
“Reinvigoration of the West Bottoms is a little bit of an unfair term,” said Sean Reilly at a 2022 Kansas City Planning Commission, as reported by CitySceneKC. Reilly is a third-generation West Bottoms business owner. “We attract over 500,000 people annually to the West Bottoms. It is a unique destination, and I would argue that it’s already a vibrant community.”
Scattered throughout the industrial brick structures reside a lively collection of art studios, a bustling antique market and numerous small businesses—all while the Bottoms remains a significant industrial center for Kansas City.
The developers and some city officials argue that the area looks a bit disheveled, dotted with tarp-covered windows, vacant buildings and cracked roads. SomeraRoad, which is based out of New York City and Nashville, is excited to help take the community to the next level and thinks the area has been underinvested in for years.
“The key across this project,” says SomeraRoad founder and managing partner Ian Ross, “is the celebration and preservation of historic structures—really leaning into the history of the West Bottoms and the authenticity of the West Bottoms. What’s amazing about the West Bottoms is twofold: One, there weren’t a lot of people down there. It was just a no-man’s-land. And two, there is such public will and desire for something to happen here.”
An example of SomeraRoad’s philosophy is phase one of their West Bottoms plan, which includes the rehabilitation of Firehouse No. 1. Originally built in 1928, the brick structure in the heart of the West Bottoms has been converted into SomeraRoad’s local headquarters.
“We want to live and breathe this project over the coming years,” Ross told Kansas City magazine of the company’s twenty-six-acre West Bottoms development plan.
This project will be SomeraRoad’s largest KC project, but it won’t be its first. The company has already made a mark in the city, renovating the former City Center Square and a River Market building at 300 Wyandotte St. into office spaces. The developer has carried out large-scale renovations similar to the one planned in the West Bottoms in Nashville and Indianapolis.
The renovated firehouse has a stylish lounge in the lower level and office space in the floors above that preserve the authentic character of the building. Spencer Sight, the local designer for Firehouse No. 1, says he wanted to “use the history but put a new twist on it.”
The goal of SomeraRoad’s project is to turn the West Bottoms into a “micro-village” as a live, work, play and stay destination. Ross believes that Firehouse No. 1 “embodies the spirit of the project, and it creates a home for our team.”
SomeraRoad’s proposal for the $500 million project was unanimously approved by the City Council and City Planning Commission in 2022. MCM Co., which previously redeveloped what is now the West Bottoms Flats, assisted SomeraRoad as a consultant, helping the company get federal and state tax credits.
SomeraRoad says the tax credits will help with its “adaptive reuse” model and allow them the room to preserve the historic integrity of the neighborhood buildings. In addition to lighter taxes, SomeraRoad sought and received rezoning of the area.
The project will add 1,250 apartments, plus hospitality, mixed-use and public spaces over the next decade. To tackle this large-scale project, SomeraRoad broke up its revitalization plan into five phases.
In addition to the firehouse renovation, phase one includes the demolition of the Weld Wheel Building due to what Ross calls structural safety issues, making room for new apartment buildings. The Moline Plow Building and many others along Union Avenue are to be converted into mixed-use apartment complexes. The Avery Building is to be converted into a fifty-room hotel, and a public square would replace a nearby parking lot.
Members of the Historic West Bottoms Association, which have been around since the 1930s, has expressed the organization’s general support of the development.
The Association’s mission has always been to support and advocate for infrastructure in the West Bottoms, Bruce Holloway, an association board member, said at a City Planning Commission meeting, as reported by CitySceneKC. Holloway did express the need for developers and city officials to work with local business owners who rent in the area and to keep these vital businesses in the area.
West Bottoms Heritage Days
Heritage Days marks its eighth year. A variety of events commemorating the area’s history, from Strawberry Swing and Missouri Valley Sundays to the Wettest Block Party and the Stockyards Legends Dinner, will be held throughout the month of May. Check out hwb-kc.com for more details.