By Kevin Collison
A sweeping redevelopment concept that would renovate two historic Film Row buildings and build an apartment project along 17th street south of the Kauffman Center is being pursued by philanthropist Shirley Helzberg.
The proposal, which is in the preliminary stages, also would renovate a low-rise, L-shaped industrial building at the northwest corner of 18th and Baltimore into a retail center and repurpose its parking lot as neighborhood green space.
Members of the Crossroads Community Assocation infrastructure committee were briefed on the concept earlier this week by Jay Tomlinson, an architect with Helix Architecture + Design.
The proposal would save the derelict MGM Studio building at 220 W. 18th St. and the Columbia Pictures building at 214 W. 18th and convert them to office space, according to Robert Harris, co-chair of the Crossroads Association infrastructure committee.
“The MGM building was ignored by its previous owners and allowed to decay,” Harris said. “We were concerned it could be demolished so this would be a big win for the neighborhood.”
The proposal also calls for the alley between the two buildings to be vacated so they could be connected.
Harris, who participated in the committee briefing, said closing alleys in the Crossroads is generally discouraged because it inhibits the walkability of the area.
“Wanting to abandon an alley and build on it is always a controversial thing,” he said. “They’ll have to sell us a lot more. We hate to vacate alleys.”
The proposed five- to six-story apartment building would replace parking lots on the south side of 17th street east of Central and across from the Performing Arts Center Garage. No renderings or unit count were available of the residential plan.
The proposed renovation of what’s called the Kenton Brothers building at 18th and Baltimore would convert it a retail center featuring small shops. The parking lot facing Baltimore would become a “parklet,” according to the concept.
Helzberg has made extensive investments in the Film Row district and nearby properties, including the Webster House and Vitagraph building.
A year ago, her development firm, Walnut Creek Ranch LLC, demolished two buildings at 1608 and 1626 Baltimore. No redevelopment plan for the property has been proposed at this point.
Her effort to renovate a building at 1640 Baltimore to be the headquarters of the BNIM architecture firm failed in 2016 because of opposition to her planned use of city tax incentives.
Harris said the developers are not planning to seek either city tax incentives or federal and state historic tax credits for the new Film Row proposal, according to the briefing.
Pete Lacy, Helzberg’s real estate consultant, declined to comment.
The four-block Film Row area in the Crossroads Arts District was the home of a thriving film distribution industry from the 1920s to the 1960s. It included about 20 buildings that stored films for regional distribution by the major Hollywood studios.
Many of the buildings have been restored and repurposed in recent years, although the MGM Studio building has been underutilized and deteriorating for many years.
Harris said the preliminary briefing was welcomed by the Crossroads Community committee.
“To us, the positive news is they’re not knocking down (Film Row) buildings,” he said. “Our Film Row buildings are unique in the United States and Kansas City because they’re still largely intact.”
No timeline for the redevelopment plan was presented to the Crossroads committee at the briefing, Harris said.
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