By Kevin Collison
In a twist on the story line the East Village sorely needs investment, the only project built there since it was designated a redevelopment zone in 2005 would need to be demolished if the Royals choose it for their ballpark.
And Community Builders of Kansas City wants to leverage that affordable apartment building it’s predecessor, Swope Community Builders, developed in 2010 to partner with the Royals.
“If you’re going to deal with us on this building, we want a larger role,” said Emmet Pierson, CEO of Community Builders. “We’re a large, minority-led developer.”
The back story.
Twenty years ago, when the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City was contemplating a new headquarters, civic leaders tried to woo it to what’s now the East Village area. The idea was to complete what had been envisioned as a government district bordering Ilus Davis Park.
Not enough of the site however, had been assembled for the size of project envisioned by the Fed and the organization instead built its new office tower by Penn Valley Park.
After losing that opportunity, The city decided to help put together land so it would be ready for the next big deal.
Swope was granted development rights in 2005. The organization envisioned a big mixed-use development anchored by a possible federal office building. While that grand idea failed to gel, Swope did build the 50-unit apartment project at Ninth and Holmes.
J.E. Dunn Construction also built a new headquarters in 2009 near the development area at Tenth and Locust.
In 2017, the East Village development rights were transferred from Swope to VanTrust Real Estate, a major local developer, and VanTrust currently is working with the Royals on that option.
Standing on the site of a potential East Village ballpark however, is the apartment building.
Pierson said his organization has had preliminary discussions with the Royals and those working on the ballpark development deal about the apartments potentially standing in the way.
“We haven’t had in-depth conversations about replacing it because they have decided on a site,” he said.
Like many people waiting for the Royals, that puts Community Builders in a frustrating position. In order to demolish the apartments, it needs the OK from state housing officials, investors and of course, the residents need to be looked out for, too.
“There’s a process of how we unwrap this development,” Pierson said. “We can’t do it overnight.”
He said Community Builders is in a great position to assure that minorities benefit should the Royals go downtown. The organization has developed more than $200 million in projects, mostly along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. near Brush Creek.
It’s latest is the $13 million Rochester apartment project at 3939 MLK Blvd. Community Builders also hired Robert Langenkamp, the city’s former assistant city manager and planning director, to be its chief development officer.
“We’ve had conversations with (the Royals) about urban redevelopment,” Pierson said. “What we’d like to see in a community benefits agreement is having Black and brown people significantly represented.
Pierson also said the informal conversations with the Royals have touched on the potential for redeveloping across 71 Highway from the East Village site in an area known as Paseo West.
At a recent press conference, Royals officials acknowledged an interest in developing in that area and ballpark district renderings showed a pedestrian walkway over 71 Highway linking the two areas.
“I was candid with (the Royals), we’re not in this from a token perspective,” Pierson said. “If you engage us, formally or informally, it’s not going to just be about the East Village apartments.
“We’re successful developers and use our own expertise getting projects through City Hall.”
Don’t miss any downtown news, sign up for our weekly CityScene KC email review here.