By Kevin Collison
City Manager Troy Schulte was unapologetic about reinvestment along Troost and the city’s support for luxury downtown residential projects during a wide-ranging talk Wednesday that also included the latest on a potential new ballpark.
In a luncheon speech to the Downtowners group, Schulte said the city’s investment in revitalizing downtown over the past decade is rippling to nearby neighborhoods, particularly along Troost Avenue and The Paseo.
“There’s a lot of development occurring and a lot of that wouldn’t have happened without that downtown reinvestment,” he said.
Schulte touched on topics including the ongoing boom in downtown apartment and hotel construction, and a renewed push to attract more office projects.
“In order for downtown to be successful, we need a balance of residential, hotel and a strong office component,” he said. “The city’s now focused on office development.”
Big projects include the 25-story Strata office tower project proposed for the Power & Light District, and the Platform Ventures plan to include 100,000 square feet of office as part of its redevelopment of the block east of Barney Allis Plaza.
Looking into the future, Schulte said a private group continues to explore the potential for decking the South Loop (I-670) freeway, a project that would cost an estimated $150 million.
He also said a feasibility study is underway for lowering the Missouri 9 viaduct to grade and reconnecting the River Market and Columbus Park neighborhoods. The city has identified funding and will be seeking state assistance.
The biggest item on the downtown wish list has only gotten more expensive.
“There’s a private sector leadership continuing to study the possibility of a new downtown baseball stadium,” Schulte said. “That’s going to be a generational issue.
“The last price tag I heard was $800 million. That can’t be accomplished just by the city, it’s going to require a lot of partners lined up to do that.”
Schulte said ballpark supporters are investigating the federal opportunity zone program as a mechanism to finance it. Developers and businesses that locate in designated zones are eligible for substantial federal tax breaks.
There are two opportunity zones in downtown, one is a several block corridor on the west side of Broadway between I-670 and Southwest Boulevard. The other is east of Oak Street and includes the East Village redevelopment area.
“The key issue is at some point, the Royals are going to have to commit,” Schulte said. “At this point, they’re just asking for information.”
The city manager said the clock is ticking on lining up a site for a downtown ballpark should the community and the Royals decide its the right move for the future.
“Those leases are up in 2031, from a planning horizon, we’re in that time frame of deciding what do we do,” Schulte said.
“We’ve got to make sure we start land banking or at least try to figure out a way to come up with some preferred sites.
“There are some sites but they’re quickly disappearing. One of the sites was originally at 13th and Grand, that site is no longer available because of the Traders (apartment) redevelopment.
“My issue is, if we’re going to need to do some land banking who’s going to do it? I’m not privy to all the conversations other than I know they’re still talking but nothing definitive and there probably won’t be anything definitive for probably another year or so.”
As for reinvestment along Troost and high-end residential development downtown, Schulte said both have been beneficial to the city’s financial and social well being.
“There’s a lot of conversation about gentrification, but with all that stuff that’s been happening along Troost Avenue, there’s been no displacement,” he said.
“Everything that’s been taking place is on vacant lots.”
“I put the affordable housing (issue) in the context that this city still has 5,000 to 7,000 vacant homes. We still have an underlying demand issue the city needs to work on.
“Sometimes low rents aren’t necessarily good for the financial health of a city. You have to have some sort of return on investment.
“We have to figure out that balancing act…We have to increase that underlying demand for our property.”
He also singled out the “Light” luxury high-rise projects developed by the Cordish Co. and the new ARTerra luxury tower in the Crossroads District for praise.
The city has been criticized by some for providing incentives to luxury residential developments.
Schulte pointed out the ARTerra project was developed on a former EPA Superfund site.
“You can argue about affordable housing, but the fact is that was a vacant lot that was contaminated…a private developer came in with limited tax support and built that building and is pushing residential development in the Crossroads.
“I think the developer ought to be congratulated.”
He also spread the love to Cordish and the development deal the city struck with the firm in 2003.
“Cordish gets maligned a lot,” he said, “but they were willing to take a bet on downtown Kansas City.
“The Cordish folks deserve a lot of credit proving the downtown market could support high end residential development. That was an unproven market.
“Everybody was saying you’ll never get more than a dollar per square foot…By golly, we’ve doubled the rents in downtown.
“Now, if you’re a rent payer down here it probably sucks….but we’re increasing the demand.
“I can tell you rents in downtown are not the highest in the metropolitan area…. We still compete with higher rents on the Country Club Plaza and higher rents in Johnson County.”
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