By Kevin Collison
A proposal to build a 12-story, 300-unit apartment tower on a parking lot immediately west of the City Market has been endorsed by a review committee reporting to Port KC.
The $75 million plan submitted by Flaherty & Collins of Indianapolis was recommended over a competing proposal from RM Housing, a local development group, that called for a five-story, 100-unit project on the site.
The review committee voted 3-2 in favor of the larger project and its recommendation will now go to the Port KC development committee and its full board for a final decision.
“We’re really excited about the prospects of doing this and we’re ready to engage with Port KC to finalize the details,” said Ryan Cronk, a vice president at Flaherty & Collins.
Plans to develop the City Market parking lot first surfaced early last spring when Port KC approached the city about using the site for an apartment project.
A request was submitted to City Hall to transfer ownership, and at that point, Flaherty & Collins was considered the potential developer.
Port KC already had experience working with the Indianapolis firm on the 410-unit Union at Berkley Riverfront project which opened in 2018.
That exclusive approach however, was opposed by other developers who argued that a competitive process was necessary for any proposal involving the city-owned lot. Last summer, the city and Port KC agreed to issue an request for proposals.
Both groups that responded to the solicitation met the requirement that at least 15 percent of the units be set aside for affordable housing, and the project include at least 160 public parking spaces to replace those lost at the development site.
The Flaherty & Collins proposal would set aside 45 units as affordable housing. The RM Housing plan called for the entire development to be affordable.
Affordable is defined as a household with an income at or below 70 percent of the Metro Kansas City median family income (MFI), according the the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department.
Cronk said the proposal still calls for a 12-story tower, but added his firm was ready to accept feedback from Port KC.
“What we proposed is one thing, and we believe there will be comments on the plan and we’ll try to get things better for everyone,” he said.
The height of the building also must be approved by the Federal Aviation Authority because of the River Market’s proximity to the Wheeler Downtown Airport. The developer is optimistic the FAA will accept the design.
If Port KC accepts the recommendation of the advisory group and approves a final development agreement, Cronk said construction could begin by mid-2022.
Should Port KC be unable to reach a final development agreement with Flaherty & Collins, the RM Housing proposal would be considered. The partners in RM Housing are George Birt, Kelley Hrabe and Jim Potter.
Birt said his group believed its proposal was better because it would provide more workforce housing for the River Market.
He pointed out that affordable projects developed in the neighborhood during the 1990s have now been converted to market rate as their low-income housing tax credit programs have expired.
“There hasn’t been any workforce housing built for a long time and the market-rate product has skyrocketed so you have this affordability gap that needs to be filled,” Birt said.
“This is publicly owned real estate,” he said, referring to the parking lot.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the need for more affordable housing and this was an opportunity to actually build a project with 100 percent affordable housing.”
In its letter to the Flaherty & Collins team, Jon Stephens, Port KC president and CEO, cited the quality of the project as being among the factors in the recommendation.
“While no single factor was determinative…a majority of the selection committee believe the density, financing model, project delivery timeline, quality of urban design and context sensitivity gave your proposal the deciding advantage,” Stephens wrote.
The five-member advisory committee was comprised of representatives from the Port KC board, the River Market Community Association, the City Market Oversight Commission, Port KC staff and a city employee appointed by the city manager.
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