By Kevin Collison
The $139 million redevelopment of the historic Commerce Tower, described as a ‘vertical neighborhood,’ held its grand opening this week and 95 percent of its 355 apartments are expected to be leased by the end of November.
“I knew it was going to do well, but the biggest thing is we’ve had is a good partnership with the the city, the Kemper Family and the Downtown Neighborhood Association,” said developer Michael Knight of the Commerce Tower Group.
“We’ve had open communication and people participating…it led to a better end product.”
And in news that should enliven a now dull stretch of downtown sidewalk, Knight said the CVS Pharmacy next door at 921 Main has signed a new 20 year lease and plans a substantial upgrade, including removing the shrink wrap covering its windows to make it more inviting to passersby.
Other improvements include installing a revolving door and moving its cash registers farther inside.
The CVS, downtown’s only full service pharmacy, almost closed in 2006, but remained after intense lobbying by city and downtown advocates. It got into another tussle in 2015, when the Commerce Tower Group threatened to end its lease if it didn’t make substantial improvements.
The towering star of the day however, was the 30-story Commerce Tower building at 911 Main, the city’s largest office building when it opened in 1965. It was big enough to warrant its own post office and zip code, observed Jonathan Kemper, vice chairman at Commerce Bank.
“Commerce Tower has meant a lot to our family, and its exciting to see it adapted to a new life,” he said.
The building was a major downtown fixture for many years, housing not only bank offices but other major tenants including the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas City Area Development Council, but it’s fortunes–and occupancy–began declining in the new century and ultimately the owner declared bankruptcy.
The new redevelopment has completely transformed the building. Besides the 355 apartments, it has 100,000 square feet of commercial space. Tenants include the Park University downtown campus and Spectrum Station early childhood center.
Its amenities include an indoor dog park in the sub-basement, and a pool will be located atop the adjoining 250 space garage, which is currently being renovated.
The project also received LEED Gold designation from the U.S. Green Building Council for its environmental sustainability and is located by a streetcar stop.
Commerce Tower is part of a major apartment boom in downtown with thousands of new units coming on line.
“It’s truly mind-blowing to know in nine short months occupancy has essentially been realized,” said Natalie Scott, director of operations.