Back in October, the KCMO city council voted unanimously to put four Midtown buildings under historic protection. It was a “novel approach” by city officials because the building’s owner said he wanted to demolish them. It was only the second time the city has made such a move. The first time was in the eighties when Union Station was being restored.
It’s the latest in a series of interesting power plays by public and private groups to shape development along the expanded KC Streetcar route. The high-stakes game will have major implications for the future of the central city.
Since the federal government granted $174 million to fully fund Kansas City’s public transportation project along Main Street in 2020, the city has seen a land rush of sorts as developers grab what they can, positioning themselves to take advantage of an anticipated economic boom along the route once it’s complete.
“There is great opportunity along the corridor to create something dynamic for the city,” says Vincent Gauthier, president of developer Authenticity and former director of the Port Authority of Kansas City.
Gauthier, who works as an urban development planning consultant, sees the streetcar as a way to showcase the unique neighborhoods lining the expanded route. Advocates view the streetcar as something much larger than just a way to move people from one part of the city to another—it’s also a way to revitalize Midtown.
Like other developers, Doug Price purchased the buildings on the corner of 31st and Main streets in the Union Hill neighborhood with the future in mind. Price was planning to demolish the structures, calling them unsalvageable, and presented potential plans for a high-rise apartment building with a front that mimics the historical structures. He’s said he doesn’t plan on producing specific plans until the streetcar route is complete in early 2025. (Price could not be reached for comment.)
Price’s plans upset neighbors who argued the historic buildings that front the busy Main Street thoroughfare serve as a “gateway” to the Union Hill Neighborhood. That’s when councilmembers Katheryn Shields and Eric Bunch, who represent the area, applied to designate the buildings, including the 1888 Victorian-era Jeserich Building, as historic, preventing Price from demolishing the structures for three years.
Gauthier, who was asked by the city to offer his opinion on the state of the buildings, does not think it would be difficult to renovate them. Removing the buildings would be “going against the absolute principle of why the streetcar line was put in,” Gauthier says.
The battle over Price’s now-historic buildings are just one of the bubbling projects along the future streetcar route. In the last several years, a slew of multi-million dollar developments have been proposed along the Main Street expansion route, and several are in the works.
KC-based VanTrust Real Estate is another developer planning to play the waiting game. The developer recently purchased a two-acre lot along Main and Linwood that houses the McGilley Funeral Home. The company has said it has no immediate plans for the property but thinks it’s in a “great location near two future streetcar stops” and plans to create specific plans when the route is finished.
Out-of-town real estate developers have been a bit more bullish. Chicago-based Mac properties is proposing to renovate the existing U.S. Bank building at Armour Boulevard and Main Street as an apartment building that spans an entire block. This project is estimated to have more than four hundred apartments and 45,000 square feet of retail space. The company also plans to renovate the historic New Yorker apartment building at 35th and Baltimore. Northpoint Development, which is based locally but operates across the country, is planning a large apartment building project at the former Trinity Lutheran Hospital. St. Louis-based Lux Living plans to keep the historic Katz Drug Store building at Westport Road and Main Street while adding almost two hundred units, each multifamily.
Exact Partners, the company that owns the Wonder Building in a rehabbed former bread bakery on Troost, has also embarked on several streetcar route projects.
“We think Main Street is going to be the vibrant corner of Kansas City, connecting universities, our Plaza, research hospitals, downtown sports and the riverfront,” says Caleb Buland, an architect and partner at Exact, which is working on both new infill and renovating historic buildings. “Main Street has not seen reinvestment in some decades, so we’re excited that the community is coming together and bringing vibrancy to midtown.”
The company completed the renovation of the historic Netherlands Hotel and turned the Monarch Storage buildings on Main into apartments in 2020. Exact is looking to redevelop the ABC storage building on Main to create apartments and also wants to create another boutique hotel in the former National Guard Armory on Main.
Buland says that the renovation of the Netherlands Hotel has been one of Exact’s favorite projects. “The views all across the city from its rooftop bar make developing along Main Street as easy as pointing over the railing and planning new projects,” he says. “On the preservation side, this building was slated for demolition after being vacant nearly two decades. Now it’s home to thirty-plus jobs and nearly two hundred residents.”