By Kevin Collison
Columbus Park, a downtown neighborhood that’s experienced its share of urban challenges, has a six-acre opportunity for redevelopment, but right now, nobody is quite sure what to do with it.
“The fact is, we don’t know what we want because we don’t know what we’re able to do,” said Kate Barsotti, president of the Columbus Park Community Council.
She cited a litany of issues confronting her neighborhood including a jump in short-term rentals, a chronic situation with homeless people in the area and property crimes.
“It’s a strange time to be here,” Barsotti said. “Other neighborhoods around here have been transformed and we seem to be slipping backwards…I don’t know what’s best for this neighborhood.”
The six-acre opportunity is being offered by the Kansas City Housing Authority. The agency is seeking development proposals for the vacant tract just north of Fifth Street between Campbell Street and the Guinotte Manor public housing development.
Except for a trespassing skate park that intrudes on its north edge, the land has been empty since a former public housing project there was demolished in 1997.
About two-thirds of the site was rebuilt as the 219-unit Guinotte Manor public housing development, the remainder was set aside for a neighborhood-oriented development.
After a previous private developer failed to move forward, the KC Housing Authority has taken matters into its own hands, issuing a request for proposals (RFP). The vacant land was valued at about $1.2 million a few years ago.
“This is an opportunity for that vacant land to be developed into some form of affordable housing,” said Edwin Lowndes, executive director of the Housing Authority.
“We want it to fit with the Columbus Park neighborhood and serve as a transition to our Guinotte development.”
The RFP however, does not limit a private developer to build an affordable housing or even a mixed-income project. If the developer is willing to pay the full value for the land, it can be developed as market-rate housing.
The Housing Authority however, is willing to sell the property for a lesser amount if a developer agrees to provide affordable housing in what’s called “commensurate public benefit.”
That benefit could include building a “meaningful” number of for-sale residences to households earning up to 80 percent of Area Median Income, or rental units at 60 percent of AMI.
The local AMI for a one-person household is $60,700 and $69,300 for a two-person household, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“We want to find out what works best for the neighborhood,” Lowndes said. “We don’t want a situation that produces gentrification of the neighborhood.”
Barsotti said it would be good if whoever develops the property builds houses affordable to first-time home owners.
Developers responding to the RFP are asked to come back with projects that are no taller than four-stories and are designed according to New Urbanism principles. New Urbanism encourages developments that are walkable and support active street life.
The deadline for responses is Feb. 3.
As for what’s called the Harrison Street DYI Skate Park, it’s a holdover from the years the adjoining six-acre tract owned by the Housing Authority was dormant. The city allowed skaters to build the park on the right-of-way of a former cul-de-sac.
Trouble is, the skate park intrudes slightly into the Housing Authority land, and plans ultimately call for the former street to be reopened as part of the redevelopment plan.
Lowndes said the skate park supporters have been told that portions of the park intruding onto the redevelopment site will have to be removed.
“They’re hoping to find a different location,” he said.
Don’t miss any downtown news, sign up for our weekly CityScene KC email review here.